It was a rainy start to a road trip, but once we passed through Burns Lake the sun came out and it shone all the way to Smithers.
This was the start of the second round of community hearings on the pipeline proposal. The first round was for registered intervenors giving oral evidence. The Joint Review Panel was here in March of this year to hear evidence from local intervenors.
I’m signed up to make an oral statement, and the community hearing date for Fort St James is July 19, so I have lots of time to prepare.
But I’ll be honest – I’m nervous. And every time I think about it I want to focus on something different. So when the chance came up to travel to Smithers to sit in on the first two days of oral statement hearings I jumped at the opportunity.
I thought that if I sat in and watched others making their statements it might ease those jumpy butterflies in my stomach, and help me figure out exactly what it is I want to say.
It’s not an easy thing to sit or stand in front of a panel filled with lawyers and experts and talk about something as complicated as a pipeline proposal. If I was talking about baking bread or growing garlic, no problem, they wouldn’t be able to shut me up.
But telling a legal hearing how I feel about a pipeline running through the centre of the province, across Airport Road and through my neighbourhood – well, that’s a bit intimidating.
When I arrived in Smithers there was a rally downtown, getting ready to make its way over to the location of the community hearings.
There were about 150 people there, lots with signs and a few folks carrying big red fish puppets. I missed the local Raging Grannies group who started the rally with some songs, but I was there in time for speeches from Wet’suwet’en leaders and local provincial and municipal politicians. The speech that caught me the most was by a group of local high school students.
They had arranged a forum on the pipeline that was attended by both Enbridge and ForestEthics, as a way of bringing the discussion to their school. They rocked the rally.
There were a lot of youth from local elementary and secondary schools, and they really did have the best signs!
After the speeches we all walked over to the Hudson Bay Lodge where the Joint Review Panel hearing was taking place. After the noise and music of the rally it was almost like going into a library – the room where the panel was sitting was very quiet. The atmosphere was very different from that of the oral evidence hearings held earlier in the year.
Everyone seemed a bit nervous about how this set of community hearings would go, as this was the first time this type of community hearing had been held for this project application.
This wasn’t evidence, it was personal opinion. There are very clear guidelines on what presenters should be speaking to, and a long list of things that were not allowed to be used as part of a presentation, such as photographs and video recordings.
In the room there were two long tables facing each other at the front of the room– one for the panel members, and one for five presenters. There were lawyers and technical people in the room as well, and lots of seats for the audience. People giving oral statements had registered in advance, and when they arrived they were placed in an alphabetical speaking order. Five speakers per session, ten minutes each, no break in between, and no comment from the panel other than if there was some issue with the previous statement. Applause erupted after almost every statement, but there was very little comment from the audience other than the applause. I was expecting lots of comment from the audience, but there was none.
At the beginning of the first session one of the Wet’suwet’en chiefs asked for respect for all in the room, and all seemed to take that to heart. No one was booed, everyone was allowed to speak their piece (even if they went slightly over or forgot their notes in their car and had to run out and get them), and the two sessions I attended ran without incident.
Speaker after speaker spoke out against the pipeline, for a variety of reasons. One woman read a list of questions her children had asked her about the pipeline. Another read a poem. Several talked about growing up on the Bulkley and Morice rivers, about fishing in Kitimat as children, and about how important clean water was to them. Many cried as they made very passionate and personal statements about how they feared the pipeline could affect them and their families. All of the statements were very personal, some nothing more than a quick personal opinion. One fellow asked for a moment of silence for all of the rivers around the world that had been destroyed by industrial pollution. Most speakers were very nervous, and that made me feel that I wasn’t alone in my nervousness about making my oral statement.
Only one fellow spoke in favour of the pipeline, and his statement was very thorough and well-argued, but was initially greeted with silence from the audience. A few of us applauded – it takes a lot of guts to stand up and say what you know will not be favourably received by the audience.
By the end of the second session I was feeling less nervous about making my oral statement in July, and I had a better idea of exactly what I want to say. I’ll be there at David Hoy School on July 19 with over 40 Fort St James and Vanderhoof residents, and together we’ll spend the day telling the Joint Review Panel and our communities how we feel about this pipeline proposal. And I’ll remember and thank those folks in Smithers who helped me get ready to tell the Joint Review Panel what I think of the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.