Tomas Borsa and Jean-Philippe Marquis were in Fort St. James as part of a documentary project called Line in the Sand.

Tomas Borsa and Jean-Philippe Marquis were in Fort St. James as part of a documentary project called Line in the Sand.

A line in the sand

Jean-Philippe Marquis and Tomas Borsa visited Fort St. James as part of a documentary project on the Northern Gateway Project.

What would a couple of hip young men from two of the largest cities in Canada with no previous connection to the place be doing in Fort St. James in November you ask?

Creating a Line in the Sand, of course.

Jean-Philippe Marquis of Montreal and Tomas Borsa of Vancouver are working on a multi-media documentary project called Line in the Sand about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

The pair were in Fort St. James to speak to locals, activists and political leaders to hear how they think the project may impact the area and their lives.

While there may be some confusion at this point due to the name, because an underground documentary on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and a film on America’s borders already exist with nearly the exact title, this is a separate project.

This project was originally founded by Borsa and two friends, Skyler Flavelle and Tristan Becker.

The group was interested in pipelines and the Northern Gateway project specifically.

“It was kind of the issue of the day,” said Borsa, yet he felt it wasn’t getting a lot of attention in Alberta or where he was, in Saskatchewan going to school. Instead the group thought the media coverage was creating an oversimplification of the issue, making it B.C. versus Alberta, the environment versus the economy and First Nations versus non-First Nations.

So they set out to dig up more than what was being reported by traditional media and because Borsa said “the joint review panel process has excluded a huge number of people and we thought that it was setting a dangerous precedent to allow such a huge range of voices to kind of go unheard.”

The group wanted to be able to understand and discover the nuances of the proposed pipeline and thought hearing those voices might help.

The founders were all from Saskatchewan and felt because of this they might be “better positioned to listen to either sides’ arguments,” said Borsa.

While he said the group did not start out to take a side one way or the other on the issue of the pipeline, “what it has become more about is understanding and embodying and empathizing with people living along the route and coming to terms with the fact that one side really does have more at stake than the other.”

“It was a little bit curiosity and a little the sense that people living along the route were being let down and were being talked for rather than being talked to,” said Borsa.

The project began in Bruderheim, Alberta, where diluted bitumen would be put into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and followed the proposed route out to where the bitumen would be loaded onto ships at a terminal in Kitimat, B.C..

The plan was to go in and “give each side their due” said Borsa, but “quite immediately when we were in Alberta we encountered … definite indifference, at best some ambivalence towards the project from the everyday person,” said Borsa. “When we would reach out to Enbridge they would not return our calls or they would hang up, when we would speak to mayors of towns or boards of commerce, they would give us the same answers over and over and over … they were talking points, PR sound bites, they weren’t actually talking with us.”

This eventually led them to the conclusion the pro-pipeline side was not all that interested in discussing the project “it  was almost treated as a done deal or an inconvenience to have to speak to the public at all,” said Borsa.

Once in B.C., however, Borsa said the group experienced much more friendliness and people were receptive to working with the project.

Moving westward along the proposed route, Borsa said the reception changed fairly dramatically.

Borsa and Marquis are traveling through this time just the two of them, with background website support, as Flavelle deals with some health issues and Becker  is working towards becoming a nurse.

Along the way, they have met some interesting people and have been surprised by some of those who have spoken to them.

Borsa mentioned Karl Mattson as being an interesting interview because he was “the furthest thing from a cliche you could ever get, he was just sort of the embodiment of how massive a range of people there are against the pipeline,” said Borsa. As a rancher and self-taught artist from Peace Country, Mattson is not the typical activist.

One professor at the University of Northern B.C. they spoke to teaches an entire class on the pipeline and some of the issues around it.

This is the second time the group has traveled along the route, though this time they are bypassing Alberta because it is not really interesting for the project, it’s “kind of like going to Belfast and asking somebody what they thought about a wall.”

So they are traveling this time through B.C., and more specifically the northwest going to places they had not yet made it to such as Terrace, Hartley Bay and Haida Gwaii (the latter two of which are not on the pipeline but are along the tanker route which would carry the bitumen from the pipeline to foreign markets).

The group was drawn to Fort St. James by the work being done by Nak’azdli through the Yinka Dene Alliance.

It was the Yinka Dene Alliance which helped inspire the project in the first place, as the Freedom Train, which took many of those opposed to the pipeline across the country by train to Toronto for Enbridge’s AGM in 2012. The train made stops along the way to meet with local First Nations and hold ceremonies to draw attention to their cause.

The train stopped in Saskatoon, where Borsa was going to university and held a ceremony and gave some talks.

“It was really really really moving and interesting,” said Borsa. “That left a lasting impression.”

He then began researching who the Yinka Dene Alliance were and those who were excluded from the joint review panel process.

“It was well-intentioned but poorly executed,” said Borsa of the joint review process.

Through the passage of Bill C-38 by the Conservatives, the number of people able to present at the joint review panel has been greatly reduced and timelines for these types of processes have also been reduced, so the group was hoping to reach out to people who have felt excluded from the process.

The entire project, consisting of video, photographs, interviews and audio will then be used to create a number of documentary products.

One goal is to create an interactive map with clips of interviews and images from along the route which will be posted on their website, hopefully by early December.

There will also be a coffee table book, which will have an expanded mandate to look at the growing opposition to pipelines in the area.

They would also like to produce a documentary, which may be a feature-length film or as shorter parts.

The website and blog to see more on the project can be viewed at