Can we afford the cost of the tar sands?

Reflections on participating in the Healing Walk

By Tim McSorley

Syncrude's tar sands plant in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo: Tim McSorley
Syncrude’s tar sands plant in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo: Tim McSorley

On July 5th and 6th, I traveled from Montreal to Fort McMurray to participate in the fourth annual Healing Walk in the heart of tar sands country, on the rolling, hilly territory of the Fort McMurray First Nation. The Healing Walk isn’t a protest. It is a ceremony, a ceremony led by Indigenous Elders to pray for the healing of the land, as hundreds of us walk the path through just a small section of the tar sands.

I’ve been an editor with The Dominion magazine for about five years now. The first article I wrote for the paper was for our special issue on the tar sands, published in 2007. Since then I’ve read dozens of pages and thousands of words about the tar sands, and pored over hundreds of images of strip mines and tailings ponds. But nothing could prepare me for the magnitude of what we saw.

The morning before we we hit the loop road we would follow around Syncrude’s facilities, two pieces of news stunned the hundreds gathered for the walk: The overnight explosion of a freight train carrying crude oil, destroying the heart of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec; and the discovery of a five kilometre-long shiny slick in the Athabasca river, on Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation territory, that appeared to be a new oil spill.



Enbridge No More, says rally on Kanehsatà:ke territory

On 23rd anniversary of “Oka Crisis”, rally tells oil company to stop developing without consent of Mohawk community


A rally of about 100 sent a clear message: Enbridge can no longer develop without consent on Mohawk territory. PHOTO: Arij Riahi.
A rally of about 100 sent a clear message: Enbridge can no longer develop without consent on Mohawk territory. PHOTO: Arij Riahi.

KANEHSATÀ:KE MOHAWK TERRITORY–On the 23rd anniversary of what has become known as the 1990 Oka Crisis, a hundred people gathered at Oka Park, on traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk) people of Kanehsatà:ke, to mark what organizers called the start of a new battle against unauthorized development on Mohawk land.

“We have neglected this part of our territory, thinking that what the white man calls a reservation is where we’re entitled to live. Today we see the exploitation, appropriation of our lands, by companies like Enbridge, who already have their pipes in the park, by Gazoduc who fracked without our knowledge,” said Ellen Gabriel, a member of the Kanien’kehá:ka nation – Turtle Clan and an outspoken voice in favor of Indigenous sovereignty. “And so it’s really important that today, this be the beginning of many kinds of demonstrations from our people. Not just Mohawks, but all people. We only have one planet, we must protect Mother Earth. And that is what this is about.”

The rally not only marked the anniversary of the Oka Crisis, but also served to send a message to oil company Enbridge about their un-approved excursion into Kanehsatà:ke territory, to inspect their oil pipeline running through the town of Mirabel, Quebec. The inspection, which includes drilling deep into the ground, is part of Enbridge’s preparations to reverse the flow of this pipeline, known as Line 9. The change in direction will allow the company to pump oil from west to east, rather than the current east to west, giving them the ability to move oil from Alberta all the way to ports on the East Coast. The reversal is currently being reviewed by National Energy Board (NEB), and is already being met by large amounts of protest and criticism.


“Whose City? Our City!”

Montrealers occupy lot in city’s southwest to demand more social housing


More than 100 people took part in an occupation of a vacant lot in Montreal's southwest, demanding the city put aside more land for social housing. PHOTO: Arij Riahi.
More than 100 people took part in an occupation of a vacant lot in Montreal’s southwest, demanding the city put aside more land for social housing. PHOTO: Arij Riahi.

MONTREAL—Some 100 protesters established an occupation of an empty lot in Montreal’s working-class neighbourhood of St-Henri on Saturday, calling on the city to dedicate more land to social housing and to reduce the rapid rate at which condominiums are being built in the city.

“Since 2000, Montreal has been in what we call a housing crisis,” said Fred Burrill, an organizer with the POPIR Tenants Committee, which serves the southwest regions of the city, including St-Henri, Little Burgundy, Côte-St-Paul and Ville-Émard. “This means the vacancy rate of available apartments for  tenants looking for apartments is under three per cent. And the city has essentially made a decision that the development of popular neighbourhoods will be given lock stock and barrel to private developers…And we’re saying we’re here today, we’re taking back this empty lot, but in general we’re taking back the city as a whole.” Related actions are being held in Point-St-Charles today, and in Villeray next week, Burrill said.

“All over the city popular neighbourhoods are coming together to say this process of the profit margin driving how we conceive our neighbourhoods and who gets to live in them can’t continue any longer,” he added.

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Words and the legal system

Supporters of Nadeau-Dubois sit in front of the doors of the Montreal courthouse. Photo: Mathieu Breton Photographe

I haven’t written much in a while. But my last piece dealt with freedom of speech in the wake of social unrest. CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois announced he will be appealing the ruling that he was guilty of contempt of court for saying that it was “legitimate” for students to continue to hold picket lines even after court injunctions were granted against them.

The basis of the argument of his defence has been that he did not know about the injunction at the time of his statement. Another argument being put forward is that he was serving as a spokesperson for a political organization at the time and should not be held liable for doing his work and repeating the stance of the group.

But even more at the heart of it, to me, is that in social movements that provoke, the words people use become incredibly important. And in order to silence them, or to at least delegitimize them, the powerful will pass laws or initiate court cases.

What do you think: should people moderate their language to avoid repercussions in the courts when they are speaking our for social movements? Or does that lead to a selective application of the law that can turn into a slippery slope?

words, words, words

For a while wanted to be an archeologist. Interest in what came way before us. While still interested, even more now in what is happening around us every day. And the power of words to tell those stories.

If you’re doing something to help make this world a little better, I want to help you put the right words to it.

You can read more about me here. Or navigate the menu to get an idea of how I can provide tailored help for your campaign or project.