An estimated 1,000 protesters lined the highway at Davis Bay for about 90 minutes Wednesday as part of the province-wide Defend Our Coast campaign.
“We’re extraordinarily pleased with the turnout,” said organizer Jef Keighley of Alliance 4 Democracy - Sunshine Coast. “The spirit is so tremendous and wonderful.”
The campaign, aimed at both the federal and provincial governments, opposes the construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat and the expansion of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline to Burnaby. Both pipelines would transport undiluted bitumen from Alberta, which would then be shipped overseas in super tankers — posing what protesters are calling an unacceptable risk to the environment.
Keighley said participants included “teachers, the labour council, the United Church, seniors, environmental groups all up and down the Coast, and average citizens just appalled by the way Harper is running the country.”
The protest, which ran from 11:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m., came two days after a major demonstration in Victoria, attended by more than 30 Coast activists, and was one of 65 planned for Wednesday in communities across B.C.
“Probably most of them won’t be as big or as boisterous as what we’ve got here, but this is the Sunshine Coast, and we do things well,” Keighley said.
With drums beating behind him, Nicholas Teichrob of Roberts Creek said he showed up to help raise awareness about what would be lost if the Enbridge tanker route and pipeline went ahead: “jobs, tourism, fisheries and a culture that’s rich.”
He didn’t know what to expect, he added, “but this is awesome.”
Kathy Vance of Gibsons was in one of the groups lined up along the highway holding large cardboard squares spelling out key messages for the passing vehicles.
“It spells TANKERS and I got to be an N,” Vance said about her group, “and I think that’s a good illustration of the fact that we need to work together on this.”
Sechelt elder Xwu’p’a’lich Barb Higgins had a similar message.
“I believe that it’s time we all pull together and get those who are trying to ruin our country to stop, or we’ll have nothing left for our kids or our grandchildren,” said Higgins, who sat near the centre of the action as part of a Sechelt Indian Band contingent. “It’s my personal thought that Indian bands are going to have to join with all the people and just come out and do this, instead of everybody being separate.”
Audrey Green drove down from Sliammon First Nation north of Powell River to join the protest.
“I’m here to support the Sechelt Band and other native bands in B.C. to protect the coastline of the Salish Sea,” Green said.
Municipal leaders from the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), Town of Gibsons and District of Sechelt also lent their support to the cause.
“I’m not in favour of tankers clogging up our coast and possibly causing damage, so I’m here to let people know that,” said Alice Lutes, District of Sechelt councillor and SCRD director. “I’ve been here since 11 a.m. and I’ve only had three vehicles either give me the finger or thumbs down. That’s a pretty awesome count. There seems to be solidarity.”
School District No. 46 board trustee Lori Dixon carried a placard with the slogan “Don’t be crude to your mother,” and spent time visiting with other protesters.
“I wanted to share how happy I am to see so many people here,” she said.
Dixon said she has been talking about the tanker issue since at least 1980, when she believed there was still enough time for Canada to be “ahead of the curve.” But that chance is gone, she said.
“Now we’re at the top of the curve. We better get together and get real,” she said. “I can’t live with the idea of me leaving the Earth in the worst shape it’s ever been in and leave those children with that problem. Now it’s not innovation, it’s preservation.”
Don Priest of Sechelt said he felt heartened by the size and energy of the crowd.
“And in general the times encourage me,” Priest said. “Since the ’60s I’ve been waiting to see people actually step up a bit more and recognize there are bigger responsibilities than the profit to be made.”
During a parking-lot rally that followed, Powell River - Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons praised the “wonderful turnout” and urged the protesters to maintain their momentum.
“A statement has been made on Monday. Another statement has been made today. There are a hundred people outside my office, besieging my office in Powell River, getting cookies and coffee, but also saying the same thing with a common voice, a united voice,” Simons said. “On a day like today, we look at each other and realize our voices are not solo voices. They’re a choir of voices singing the right song in the right key for the right people to hear.”
Sunshine Coast RCMP members were on the scene to ensure safety for all parties, including the protesters, RCMP said, and no incidents were reported.
Meanwhile, environmental review hearings for the Northern Gateway project will resume Oct. 29 in Prince George. The review panel has until the end of next year to deliver its report.