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Enbridge Hearings: Leave or Get Arrested

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
Enbridge Hearing Before Arrests [Murray Bush – Flux]
Enbridge Hearing Before Arrests [Murray Bush – Flux]

On this morning of 15 January 2013, an official informed me that I "forfeited" my opportunity to finish speaking to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel. As I departed from the hearing room, I met with repeated threats of arrest.

The basis of my expulsion was that my one allowed guest had allegedly opened the door to the room and permitted the entry of five protesters who interrupted my presentation.

I asked the official whether the public hearing process had a protocol that would allow them to silence me on account of an action purportedly taken by my guest. The only response to that question was an uneasy repeat of a threat of arrest.

At this stage, the so-called hearing was about to resume. My guest had disappeared, and I kept looking to see if her belongings were still in the row of observer chairs. The five protesters had been put into handcuffs and led away.

During the long pause in proceedings, with the three Gateway reviewers having left the room, a few conversations took place.

Presenters had been brought in as a group of three, and I sat to the right of the group, the first to speak. The two persons to my left seemed sympathetic to the disruption. At the outset, all of us were individually offered the opportunity to exit the chamber if we felt uncomfortable with the situation, and all of us declined to leave.

The man in the middle initiated a cell phone conversation, and I understood him to be interested in letting persons "outside" know what was happening. Then I understood the person at the left to say she had less than ten minutes of her own material, and she wondered if it would be useful for her to talk about what had taken place, since she suspected that the event had been blocked from public view. I encouraged her to do so.

At some point I had a chat across the room with the transcriber about where I should restart from my written presentation (reproduced below). He said that his last word on record was "labyrinthine." When I look back at what I had to say — and subsequently did not get to say — I think how appropriate that point of rupture was.

If I had scripted the interruption of my presentation — and I did not — I could not have keyed it more appropriately to the text I set out to deliver. The timing was perfect theatre.

As it became clear that I would not be allowed to finish my presentation, I offered to provide the document to the transcriber so it could go into the record from the written form. The official said something like, that won't happen, but we'll take it anyway.

I then proposed to my fellow presenters that if they had extra time, they might choose to deliver some or all of the rest of the content on my behalf. While I marked the break point in the text, and handed off the two sheets of typescript, the official became more agitated and repeated his threat of arrest.

I said I would leave. The man at my left then asked for my email address, and I attracted one final threat of arrest as I scribbled that down on his note pad and stood up.

Two uniformed police officers escorted me through the small lobby, to the coat check, to the elevator, and said goodbye to me at the front door of the Wall Centre tower.

I take the treatment that I received as a concrete manifestation of fear that starts at the top, a correlate of the harshly controlled and physically divided circumstances of what is being called a public hearing. The official fear seemed to mushroom as solidarity began to emerge among three presenters who had been total strangers. When government becomes dictatorial, and widely unsupported by the people, those in power have nothing to fall back on but their own fear.

Among the morning speakers, I stood twelfth in a list of twenty. Of the speakers who preceded me (I saw their presentations only via videocast), not a single one supported the Enbridge pipeline application. One speaker moved me to tears, a doctor with her account of extensive personal relationships to and along the northern B.C. coast. Another speaker blew me away with his extensive resume of executive and governmental positions in power generation, and his scathing and detailed criticisms of the Enbridge application.

This was the context in which I tried to speak to the powers — and ultimately was forced to stop speaking. It will be interesting to see if the words that were transcribed before the disruption are viewed as "legitimate" and allowed to stand, or if they get silently disappeared as being retroactively contaminated. However that circumstance plays out, here is what I prepared, and here it now goes into a true public forum.

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Submission of Joseph Jones to Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel

Vancouver, B.C. — 15 January 2013

Just as I was preparing to write out my presentation to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Vancouver yesterday morning, I received an email from the Gateway Process Advisor encouraging – that was the word, encouraging – me to review something called Procedural Direction #13 while preparing my oral statement. I clicked on the provided link, downloaded some kind of file, and then found that my fully functional computer could not recognize or open the file. This seems emblematic of the process that I first plugged into back around September 2011.

I have also received multiple emailed invitations from the Gateway Process Advisor saying that I should let you coach me on what I should say to you and how I should say it. I was also told that I did not have to do that if I did not want to. Believe me, I did not want to. If what I say to you is to have any meaning, it has to come out of my mouth, not yours.

I do not represent anyone other than myself and to some degree my family, a natural extension of myself. That said, I want to tell you that I have spent a lot of time over the last half-year with dozens of young people and some Indigenous folk, people whose faces you mostly will not see and whose voices you mostly will not hear. In the first place, they have no confidence in you or this process. In the second place, the intricacies of registration and procedure are designed to exclude them. Indeed, this is the most labyrinthine [last word on record] and oppressive public interest speaking opportunity that I have engaged with.

Before going further, I want to say something that I myself have never before said aloud in a public forum, although it is something that I have heard said many times. We all here today stand on land that has not been ceded to anyone else by the Tsleil-waututh and Musqueam and Squamish inhabitants.

For you to evaluate what I present to you in this hearing, you need to have some sense of who I am. Context is important. In fact, this review is all about context. Can a rupturable pipeline carrying bituminous sludge reasonably run through a rugged and wild terrain of extreme changes in elevation, cross over numerous streams and rivers that would immediately disperse noxious chemicals throughout a wide area, and withstand continual harsh variations in climatic conditions? To these factors, add a likelihood approaching certainty that such a pipeline must suffer the impact of geomechanical stressors like avalanches, floods, landslides, fires, and earthquakes.

Back to me. I am a Librarian Emeritus at the University of British Columbia. My business was and is the assembling and organizing and evaluation of information. I gather that this process has a technical orientation, and is particularly looking for details of planning oversights that can be corrected on an ongoing basis even while the public hearing is being conducted. Another way to express this apparent underlying assumption is to say that any project whatsoever can be engineered with a series of tweaks.

When I went off to university, I anticipated majoring in mathematics and physics. That did not happen, but those courses deepened an existing respect for quantification and probabilities. A favorite theme of my physics professor was how a sense of proportion is far more important than the exact details of a particular calculation. In other words, does the answer you think you have found make any sense? If you are out by an order of magnitude, it does not – even if the wrongness cannot be uncovered in the perfection of the calculation.

In the case of this proposed bituminous sludge pipeline, the sense of proportion becomes an assessment of the risk of doing irreparable harm to the land that you call British Columbia, with that risk set against the material benefits of developing a particular new capability for shipping off huge amounts of unprocessed little-value-added raw material to foreign countries.

I have heard Mel Bazil, associated with the Unis’tot’en of the Wet’suwet’en, a people in the direct path of the proposed pipeline route, state this profound principle for use of natural resources: “Take what you need and leave the rest for the future.” Have proponents of this bituminous sludge pipeline properly assessed what the people of Canada really need right now?

I’d like to close with a science-fiction sort of thought experiment, more biology than physics. Suppose that you yourself are a twenty-seven-year-old long distance runner, and you are offered what appears to be a special opportunity. Your sponsors want you to agree to an operation for a special biological implant that current competition rules seem to allow. If everything goes as hoped, you may become an unbeatable world champion. This complex implant consists of a mechanism embedded in the pancreas, a special nano-factory that produces a powerful substance to amp up heart and lung function. In every other part of your body, except for the heart and lungs, the substance is fatally corrosive. To convey the substance from the pancreatic factory to the heart and lungs, you also have to have a conduit that winds through your abdominal cavity. The durability of any conduit material is extremely uncertain, especially under the extreme exercise conditions of all-out competition. However, you will be insured, so that your spouse and dependents get paid a standard something if the conduit fails. Will you decide to implant this mechanism inside your own body?

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