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Ottawa town hall says Energy East risks waterways

Ottawa residents came out last night to hear about the threats that would be posed to waterways by the 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline.

Before the public forum, the Ottawa Citizen reported, “The Council of Canadians and Ecology Ottawa are set to co-host an evening town hall that will explore ‘the threat to water from the Energy East tar sands pipeline’ – and particularly, the ‘catastrophic impacts’ that a spill could have on the Rideau, Mississippi and Ottawa rivers, as detailed in a newly released report from Montreal-based technical firm Savaria Experts-Conseils – at the Ottawa Public Library.”

The event was moderated by Ecology Ottawa executive director Graham Saul. Ecology Ottawa is a not-for-profit, grassroots and volunteer-driven organization that provides residents with the information and tools they need to understand local environmental issues and promote environmental leadership at City Hall. And Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda welcomed the audience to unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory. She told us that hope is free and that it’s important to be hopeful and to take care of Mother Earth.

Council of Canadians energy campaigner Daniel Cayley-Daoust highlighted the new 30-page technical report commissioned by our two groups that found that a spill from the pipeline would have catastrophic and costly consequences and put the region’s drinking water at risk. The report says that a spill in the Rideau River would impact Ottawa and Gatineau’s drinking water within 48 hours and a spill in the Mississippi River would impact the drinking water for those cities after about 60 hours.

Verna McGregor, an Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi, talked about rivers as the bloodlines of Mother Earth and how if we block them we hurt Mother Earth just as would happen to us if our circulation was impeded. She also talked about the resistance several years ago to a proposed uranium mine on unceded territory near Sharbot Lake. Queen’s University professor Robert Lovelace was sentenced to six months in jail in 2008 for refusing to obey an injunction against protesting at the mine site. McGregor said there are times when this type of courage and sacrifice is needed to protect water.

Erica Violet Lee, an Indigenous feminist and community organizer from Treaty 6 territory in Saskatchewan, talked about her experience at COP21 in Paris and knowing that real climate action wasn’t going to come out of that forum. She received warm applause from the audience when she told the story of her sticking out her tongue when standing near Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in Paris. Eric also talked about the 1,572 barrel Husky oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River this summer. And she talked movingly about Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old man from the Red Pheasant First Nation who was killed this summer when he was shot by a farmer as the car he was in pulled onto a farm property to ask for help with a flat tire.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow closed the evening by highlighting both the global water crisis – in which 3.9 billion people could be living in areas affected by severe water stress by 2030 – and the water crisis here in Canada as told in her new book, Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis. Barlow also highlighted that the federal Liberals appear to be backtracking on their election pledge to restore and enhance the Navigable Waters Protection Act because Big Oil doesn’t want those protections back in place for the 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers now without federal oversight.

A letter to the editor in today’s Ottawa Citizen by Nancy Biggs notes, “An independent report commissioned by the Council of Canadians and Ecology Ottawa warns us that if there is an oil spill in the Mississippi or Rideau rivers, the quantity of oil released will be 13 million to 18 million litres. To put this in perspective, data from other catastrophic spills show it has taken from eight hours to two weeks to notice and react to spills. In July, it took 14 hours to shut down the valves in the North Saskatchewan River Husky oil spill. Is it worth the risk to our drinking water and our economy and way of life? Just say no to the Energy East Pipeline and protect our rivers at no extra cost.”

For more on our campaign to stop the Energy East pipeline, please click here.