A New Study Confirms the Tar Sands are Harming the Health of First Nations

This article was originally published by Vice Canada.

The most in-depth study of health concerns among communities downstream from the Alberta tar sands is out, and the results are damning.

The report largely confirms what residents of Fort Chipewyan, home to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN), have long been saying: significant increases in illnesses in the communities, including cancer, asthma, diabetes, and mental illness, among others, can be clearly tied back to tar sands development 200 kilometres upstream along the Athabasca River.

The study was lead by Dr. Stéphane McLachlan of the University of Saskatchewan, and carried out in conjunction with the AFCN and MCFN. The study is the first of its kind in working directly with community members in framing the direction of the research. Carried out in two phases over the past three years, McLachlan said the results they found are clear.

“What we found was a decline in health, particularly in relation to cancer. Again, I would argue, the link to the oil sands is incontrovertible,” he told VICE.

Continue reading A New Study Confirms the Tar Sands are Harming the Health of First Nations


These Protesters Walked 700 Kilometres Along Two Canadian Pipelines

This piece was originally published by Vice Canada.

Image by Arij Riahi.

Oil pipelines are about linking oil-well to terminal, linked from junction to junction along the way, spread out across vast expanses of the Canadian landscape. In Quebec, for example, two pipelines will be covering at least 700 kilometres, from Kanehsatake, west of Montreal, to Cacouna, a port town on the Gulf of St-Lawrence.

How do you push back against a major infrastructure project that crosses dozens of municipalities, let alone provincial jurisdiction and, importantly, Indigenous territory? For one group of some two dozen environmental activists it has been to walk the 700 kilometre path of those pipelines, so that the links in those towns and municipalities isn’t just between cold, metallic pipes, but between the people who are concerned about the oil flowing through them.

“A lot of people along the way didn’t know about the pipelines or about the link to the tar sands,” said Aurore Fauret, one of the organizers of the walk, dubbed Marche pour la Mère Terre (March for Mother Earth). “We were able to make links between a lot of smaller, local groups along the way… When you have an action [like this march] it can help give momentum to the movement at large.”

Continue reading These Protesters Walked 700 Kilometres Along Two Canadian Pipelines

Tarsands divestment and its discontents

Originally published in the January/February issue of Briarpatch magazine.

Can a new campaign curb the fossil fuel industry?

Since last spring, a new weapon has been added to the arsenal against climate change and fossil fuel consumption in Canada. It’s a familiar word being used in a new context: divestment. Popularized in the fight against South African apartheid, and gaining strength in its more recent application against Israel, divestment is something proponents hope will trigger the shift needed to build a national youth movement to “keep the oil in the soil.”

Early signs suggest the divestment campaign has traction. According to a study from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, based at Oxford University, it is spreading faster than the anti-apartheid divestment campaign against South Africa did, with six U.S. universities and colleges already pledging to divest. According to Canadian organizers, there are also over 300 active campaigns on campuses, in public institutions, and among pension funds worldwide. Of those, over a dozen are active on Canadian campuses, and there is a strong feeling among organizers that Montreal’s McGill University could be the first to divest by the end of the 2014 academic year.

The simplicity of the campaign seems attractive: universities and public institutions are encouraged to withdraw funding from fossil fuel investments, exerting financial pressure on oil and gas companies.

But as divestment organizers will tell you, scratch the surface and the easy math disappears to reveal a complicated if not contradictory effort to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry into scaling back its operations. Indeed, for some, presenting such a complex issue as outwardly simple could be the project’s greatest weakness. If the deeper links between fossil fuels, capitalist production, and colonialism are ignored in order to popularize the campaign, critics fear that divestment will be more of a shell game than a solution.

Continue reading Tarsands divestment and its discontents