Line 9 is a 639 kilometre-long pipeline operated by Enbridge that carries 300,000 barrels of crude oil from North Westover (near Sarnia, Ontario) to a refinery in Montreal. It runs through Anishnaabe, Haudenosaunee, Métis, and Lenape territories of 18 First Nations communities. One of the First Nations, the Chippewas of the Thames, has sued the Canadian government for breaching its constitutional duty to consult before the National Energy Board approved the pipeline.
On December 7, 2015, Indigenous activists and their allies shut down the pipeline. Another pipeline shut-down occurred on December 21, 2015.
The following is a first-hand account of the December 7 action by an anonymous activist.
Despite our long and hard-fought campaign of lobbying, legal battles, and direct action against Line 9, Enbridge and the National Energy Board opened the pipeline on December 3, 2015.
On December 7, we shut it down. Literally. Mainstream media reported that Enbridge shut down Line 9 as a “precaution,” but we know better. We closed the valve manually. This is historic: to our knowledge, this is the first time that activists have manually shut down a pipeline.
On the day of the action, Enbridge stock plunged almost 8 per cent, amounting to billions of dollars of losses. At the point of publishing, the stock hadn’t fully recovered.
There is a strong sense of exuberance following this action. One of the notable achievements of our radical action has been its ability to galvanize broad popular support. This lockdown was organized by anarchists, but it was publicly supported by citizens’ groups, including the former mayor of the town where the action took place.
This action was a test of Canada’s new anti-terrorism act, Bill C-51, which expands the definition of terrorism to include tampering with critical infrastructure, which can be interpreted under the law as oil and gas infrastructure like pipelines. Our line of thinking was this: if they charged us with terrorism, they’d be saying that a large segment of the population supports terrorism, and the state would lose the usefulness of the label “terrorism” to demonize an isolated political element. It wouldn’t be in Canada’s interests to charge us with terrorism, but it would be good for our movement, since in all likelihood, once C-51 is tested in court, it will get thrown out as unconstitutional. And the sooner that happens, the better.
There is a general sense that this action has breathed new life into the anti-Line 9 campaign, which many NGOs had long ago abandoned as unwinnable. For the first time in a long time, activists are expressing optimism that Line 9 can be shut down before it spills. We’ve arrived at a critical juncture, and the time for bold direct action has come.
In the aim of disseminating accurate information about this action, we present the most detailed account of events available.
Timeline of action
First affinity group arrives at site. They unload supplies from vehicles and move them off-site.
Jean Leger calls the Enbridge emergency number and tells them that he is closing the valve. Filmed by a journalist co-conspirator, he begins to turn off the valve. The ground starts vibrating under the pressure. To avoid a potential explosion, the valve is opened slightly. The ground continues to vibrate, and the sound of pressurized flow is audible.
Patricia Domingos, the former mayor of Sainte-Justine-de-Newton, shows up. She has been active in the fight against Enbridge for over three years, and she is delighted about what is happening. For the rest of the day, she acts as a spokesperson. Because Enbridge has still not arrived, she calls the Enbridge emergency number a second time. Incredibly, she cannot reach anyone who speaks French. Enbridge takes her name and number and says her they will call her back.
The Ontario Provincial Police arrives to tell someone to move their car from a church parking lot. They have arrived with no knowledge of the action. When they figure out what’s going on, they express their relief that the valve is on the Quebec side of the border – not their jurisdiction, not their problem. They leave the scene.
A second affinity group (larger than the first) shows up on scene and begins setting up tents, hanging banners, filming, tweeting, and being an awesome support team.
A francophone Enbridge employee calls back Patricia Domingos. Enbridge finally gets the message. They insist that the pipeline isn’t closed, saying that everything is showing up as normal on their monitoring system. What does that say about their much-hyped high-tech security measures?
Activists unlock themselves to close the valve. The vibration reaches a fever pitch, but once the valve is wrenched as far as possible to the right, the vibration stops altogether. Activists lock back onto the valve.
Sûreté du Québec arrives on scene.
Enbridge employees arrive on scene.
Enbridge employee, flanked by SQ officers, reads a statement in French ordering activists to leave the scene.
A “specialist” team arrives on scene. Whatever they specialize in, it sure ain’t cutting locks.
SQ establishes a perimeter and tells media to go to the road. Media leave initially, but they are back minutes later. They continue to film at a close distance for the rest of the day. The crowd of supporters also remains nearby, maintaining an unruly and bold presence throughout the action. No supporters are arrested.
Around this time, the two activists locked to the valve super-glue their locks shut. From this moment on, they no longer have any ability to unlock themselves. People begin to sing, and the sun comes out.
The activist locked to the fence is arrested, while the crowd raucously cheers him on, singing and chanting. He is taken into custody and released about an hour and a half later.
When attempting to handcuff one of the activists locked to the valve, another valve linked to the infrastructure sprays oils all over the place. All hell breaks loose. One woman rushes towards the cage and is knocked down by cops. The intensity of the crowd reaches a fever pitch. The cops seem genuinely scared at this point, as they suddenly realize that they’re in a potentially explosive situation.
The crowd begins chanting for paramedics and firefighters to be brought to the scene, taunting the police for their incompetence. Police stop trying to extract the two people still locked down, and the jubilant crowd breaks into song, which continues for a long time. This is the energetic high point of an already awesome day.
Approx. 16:00 or 16:30
Firefighters arrive with heavy-duty equipment and break the valve, hauling the two remaining activists away with reinforced U-locks still on their necks.
17:00 or 17:30
Enbridge employees move in and immediately open the valve.
One of the activist who locked down refused to sign off on non-association conditions, but when he was brought to jail, he was refused entry because he had a lock around his neck! He spent the night at the cop shop and was released the following day, with no non-association conditions. Good to know!
Speaking as a participant, this action was a high point in my activism career. The support was absolutely incredible, the solidarity expressed through song and action was beyond beautiful, and everything about the entire day seemed to unroll according to the benevolent whims of some trickster god.
So there you have it: Enbridge’s secret is out. Shutting down pipelines is easy, and their security is woefully inadequate to prevent either direct action or disastrous spills.
For that reason, it’s appropriate here to temper this glee with a sober dose of reality: Enbridge’s Line 9 is currently active, and recent actions have shown that we have even more cause than before to be concerned about the very real prospect of an immanent spill. We can also be sure that any spill that does occur will be poorly managed. All the more reason to intensify our organizing.
It would be wise to prepare for a wave of repression and infiltration from the triangulated efforts of police, legislators, and industry, though it’s hard to imagine them slowing the momentum of our movement at this point.
Lastly, the three activists who were arrested were charged with mischief, trespassing (breaking and entering), and obstruction. They plan to aggressively fight the charges, and given the staggering amount of witnesses and evidence, it could be a long time before they get to trial. They’ll have raise funds because one of the activists, Jean Leger, isn’t eligible for legal aid. All this to say: don’t forget about your comrades!
And may the words that were chanted throughout the day resonate with you, dear reader, as they will resonate in my heart for the rest of my days.
ON LACHE RIEN!
(translation: WE’RE NOT GIVING UP!)