Aboriginals protest Enbridge pipeline

Martin Louie a First Nations leader from Nadieh, B.C arrives at the Enbridge AGM after leading a march of first nation protesters and their supporters through downtown Toronto as they continue their protest against proposed oil pipelines in Canada's west coast, on Wednesday May 9, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO - Scores of West Coast First Nations and supporters marched Wednesday on Enbridge's annual meeting of shareholders to denounce a proposed pipeline that would cross their territories.

The Yinka-Dene Alliance argue the project poses a threat to aboriginals' way of life by threatening waterways and ecosystems.

"It's a ticking timebomb," said Terry Teegee, vice tribal chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.

"This company has a lot of breaks in their pipelines; it's not a matter of if, it's just a matter of when."

Project opponents travelled from the West Coast aboard a "Freedom Train" to make their point in the country's financial heartland.

After a "mingling of the waters" ceremony and speeches from First Nations leaders, the protesters marched from a square several blocks east to the downtown hotel where Enbridge shareholders were meeting.

Outside the hotel, protesters braved rain to drum, sing and chant under the watchful eye of security and police officers who had escorted them on their march.

They carried signs that read "No pipelines on our lands" and chanted "We can't drink oil."

The $5.5-billion Northern Gateway project would see crude from Alberta's oilsands moved through a twin pipeline more than 1,100 kilometres to the B.C. coast. From there, supertankers would ship the crude to Asia.

Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) maintains the project would create jobs, stimulate economic development, and be safe.

"We wouldn't be proposing this project if we didn't have utmost confidence that we could both construct and operate the project with utmost safety and environmental protection," spokesman Todd Nogier said from Calgary.

"This project would employ the best technology and best processes."

The protesters also denounced Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government for proposed legislative changes they say would weaken various environmental protections.

Among the changes would be limits on the ability of environmental groups to intervene in project-assessment hearings.

"The Harper government is doing everything in its power to get this project approved, including changing laws and changing policies," Teegee said.

"This project is not only a threat to our lands, but it is a threat to the democratic system of Canada."

Enbridge filed its application for Northern Gateway, which would run from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C., almost two years ago.

Environmental assessment hearings began in January of this year, and a decision is not expected until late next year.

The alliance argues the pipeline would endanger the habitats of the hundreds of rivers and streams it must cross, and would have a drastic impact on First Nations communities if a spill occurred.

There are also concerns about a dramatic increase in tanker traffic along the pristine coastline in waterways that can be treacherous to navigate.

Numerous groups have voiced concerns over the undertaking, complete with a variety of protest rallies.

Nogier said the protests suggest a far higher level of opposition to the project than is actually the case.

He said more than 20 communities of 50 affected by the pipeline had signed on to a 10 per cent equity stake in the project, but the Yinka-Dene have refused to even discuss the idea.

"We're just wanting to pick up that conversation," Nogier said.