Four years in the battle for our shores
"Boat in place; Protests do no good"
-- Inverness Oran headline, December 17,
"Native fails to win injunction to stop
seismic testing off Cape Breton"
-- Canadian Press headline, December 11,
By TONY SEED
(HALIFAX, January 22, 2004) -- On December 11, 2003 about one hundred people
demonstrated on the Cape Breton side of the Canso Causeway and at the wharf
in Port Hawkesbury, where the geophysical vessel Admiral of the Alberta-based
GSI, was berthed, to protest imminent seismic tests over a 500-kilometre
area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence by Corridor Resources Ltd. of Halifax. Signs
proclaimed that "oil and fish do not mix" and (Nova Scotia Premier John)
"Hamm has no respect for fishermen".
"This is the first protest of many", declared Bill MacDonald, a lobster fishermen
from Judique, Cape Breton, at the time.
Indeed within five weeks, over 100 people, many of them students in the environmental
sciences, inaugurated the New Year by marching through the streets of Halifax
in a lively demonstration on January 21st against the federal Department
of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
Shouting such slogans as "No Habitat, No Fish", "Say NO! to DFO!" and "Regan
(Paul Martin's new fisheries minister) Must Go!", they carried a massive
trawling net over one city block long (the smallest size commercially available)
to illustrate just how corporate draggers are plundering the ocean and degrading
the seabed. The demonstration was called by the Ecology Action Centre (EAC)
to publicize its upcoming lawsuit launched two years ago against DFO. It
argues DFO violates the federal Fisheries Act by licensing corporate
draggers which destroy the marine habitat. At the same time DFO has implemented
all kinds of measures to eliminate the small and inshore fishermen by privatizing
and corporatizing the fishery. The case commences on January 26th in the
Federal Court in Halifax.
And on December 10 Albert Marshall, the respected Mi'kmaq elder from Eskasoni
First Nation on the Bras d'Or Lakes in Cape Breton, attempted to secure a
court injunction in Halifax on the basis that Corridor did not negotiate
or consult with First Nations who have never surrendered sovereignty over
the seabed. The Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy First Nations have consistently
opposed oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence along with the
major fishing organizations in the Gulf region. Their latest challenge was
countered by the CNSOPB and arbitrarily dismissed after an hour of deliberation
by Justice Simon MacDonald of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. The lawyer for
the board, William Moreira, a son-in-law of Graham Dennis, publisher of the
Halifax Herald Ltd., and a partner in the Halifax law form Daley, Black &
Moreira, also represented corporate fishing interests in their challenge
of the Marshall Decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999. The Judge
decreed that the Mi'kmaq could not prove that they had traditionally fished
more than 15 kilometres from the coast, even though it is well known that
the waters were a traditional route for the Mi'kmaq travelling in the basin,
and that the judge's ancestors were not around when this practice began.
An attempt to set a destructive precedent
Corridor plans to bring the natural gas to Port Hawkesbury by pipeline for
export to the United States. The $1.5 million seismic testing project is
based on a natural gas discovery made in the 1970s. A second company, Hunt
Oil of Dallas, Texas has been awarded licenses to conduct seismic tests about
six kilometres off the eastern coast of Cape Breton Island in the shallow
waters of the area known as Sydney Bight. This is an extremely sensitive
area where the Department of National Defence dumped large amounts of biological
chemical-warfare gas drums and unexploded bombs after the Second World War.
Corridor is a "junior" oil and gas exploration company, registered in Alberta
in March, 1995 and headquartered in Halifax. It has onshore interests on
over 6 million net acres in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec,
and offshore interests in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, especially the Laurentian
Channel region, where it holds Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador licenses,
including the Îles de la Madeleines and Anticosti Island. There it
is exploring in partnership with Hydro-Québec, which is planning to
invest $330 million for oil and gas exploration in the St. Lawrence by 2010.
Seismic testing by GSI, mandated by Hydro-Québec, has also been impending
in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence between the Magdalene Islands, the Gaspé
Peninsula and Anticosti Island. DFO scientists have recommended that this
project not be authorized because of major risks to whales (especially beluga
whales) and snow crabs. Offshore drilling for oil exploration and production
purposes in the Old Harry area near the Magdalene Islands is imminent, as
well as on the Islands themselves.These projects are being opposed the people
of Quebec, especially the Madelinots. A Common Front, made up of scientists,
environmentalists, fisheries representatives, tourist industry representatives,
artists and private citizens has been demanding a moratorium to allow time
for public evaluation of Hydro-Québecís entire St. Lawrence oil and
gas exploration plan. A recent announcement by the Quebec government on December
2nd postponing the Magdalane exploration project and authorizing an environmental
impact study has not allyaed their concerns.
Seismic testing has intensified nearby off western Newfoundland and preparations
are underway for seismic testing amongst the icebergs of the Davis Straits
off the coast of Labrador. The natural gas off Labrador accounts for one-third
of all gas resources on the East Coast.
In a related development, Canada has been participating in a US$20 million
joint study with the U.S. Corps of Engineers since May, 2003 on the feasibility
of a proposed project to widen the St. Lawrence Seaway. The United States
has shown a determined interest in the project for several years now.
According to a Corridor announcement issued on December 30th, "The survey
commenced on December 15 and, following some interruptions due to rough weather,
was completed on Christmas morning. No marine mammals were sighted within
one kilometer of the seismic vessel during survey operations. Following processing
and interpretation, the seismic results will be utilized to locate an exploration
well on the Chéticamp natural gas prospect located approximately 20
kilometers off the coast. However, drilling operations can only take place
in the area with the approval of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum
After seismic testing has been completed, Corridor Resources will then undertake
the second stage of their development, exploratory drilling in promising
areas for oil and gas development. Exploratory drilling is preliminary drilling
used to locate areas where copious amounts of oil reserves could be present.
The company will then use the most promising sites from exploration to springboard
into a full-fledged oil and gas development. Sites are exploited through
"farm-out agreements" with the oil and natural gas monopolies. The board
of directors of Corridor includes representatives of such U.S. oil trusts
as Richland, and its website indicates links to Shell Oil.
One of the CNSOPB license requirements is that Corridor Resources must evaluate
the effects of seismic exploration on snow crab eggs -- by conducting seismic
testing. It is an attempt to set a destructive precedent, a legal pretext
to rationalize the expansion of the U.S. oil trusts from the offshore to
the inland sea and the destruction of the small and inshore fishermen, the
main social force and the producers of the wealth of the sea, the food which
is so vital to the health and well-being of Canadians, who stand in their
way. Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre of Halifax says, "Basically,
this is the thin edge of a big wedge." Even with conditions attached,
these corporations can ultimately have complete access to the areas. Addressing
the significance of these developments for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he adds,
"When you open up an area, you open it up, particularly with the petroleum
board being the prime regulator," he says.
The demand for renewal
These political and legal actions are a continuation of a four-year mass
movement. Thousands of people have repeatedly gone into action with the demand
to stop oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence -- to stop petroleum
exploration along Canada's shorelines and in spawning, nursery and migratory
areas for lobster, herring, snowcrab, tuna, endangered Atlantic salmon, whales,
dolphins and recovering groundfish species on which 20,000 fishermen depend
for their livelihood -- and to demand that the government refuse to sanction
the plans of the oil trusts. They also demanded renewal in the national arena,
that new relations be established in the decision-making process through
which the dictates of the oil trusts and their plans for exploitation of
Canada's natural resources are assessed and rubber stamped.
Throughout this four-year period the only public meetings and forums to seriously
discuss the significance of oil and gas exploration were organized at the
base. The movement included the formation of a coalition comprising forty
groups (the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition), a petition submitted to
the House of Commons of over 5,000 people in February 2000, scores of meetings
and demonstrations from Chéticamp to Halifax often in bitter weather,
display ads in newspapers, lobbying politicians, research and writing briefs,
production of independent videos and plays, and delving more deeply into
the subject in the advocacy of truth and scientific analysis of the social
and natural environment. The protest was especially active in the impoverished
rural and coastal Maritime and Québecois villages attached to the
fisheries, the forestry and agriculture, caught in the vise of uneven capitalist
development. In other words, these popular actions reflect the conscience
of Maritimers, the Québecois, and Canadians.
Protests and disinformation
Does such protest make any difference? When the mass media pose this question,
instead of explaining what gave rise to the protests, it is done from pre-conceived
notions and intended to belittle and marginalise the movement of the people,
to sow pessimism that nothing anyone does is going to make any difference
and even openly proclaim that the people are losers and, by implication,
U.S. Oil is the big winner. This is disinformation which is aimed at blocking
the people from finding solutions. It is a means of pressure, blackmail and
diversion on popular movements. On this front, the media -- with the exception
of the Inverness Oran, shunpiking magazine and TML Daily -- consistently
denied space to this movement. On the other hand it promoted the oil trusts'
line that the central issue was jobs-versus-the environment to split the
unity of the people and wreck the polity. In the words of the Toronto Star,
they promised that if the oil trusts strike oil or gas off Cape Breton, "oodles
of jobs will flow to the island, which has some of the starkest poverty in
Canada." At the same time, the general disinformation spread by the monopoly
media includes a particular censorship of news information which operates
regionally within Atlantic Canada. The people at the southern end of the
Gulf of St. Lawrence are prevented from knowing what is being planned in
the estuary of the Gulf, and vice versa, while the state ensures through
its regulatory mechanisms that the impacts of the drilling projects are not
subject to public scrutiny, let alone question.
By the force of numbers, the authority of a just cause and by building their
unity in action, people living and working along the Gulf have persisted
on their path for precisely four years this month. The plans of the oil industry
inadvertently first became known to Gulf fishermen in January 1999. The tests
were originally scheduled to proceed in September, 1999. The area originally
targetted for exploration by Corridor covered one thousand (1,000) square
miles of an abundant, diverse, healthy ecosystem, double what was actually
granted in November, 2003. Seismic shoots had to be repeatedly postponed.
The plan to shoot seismic in 2000 had to be postponed when the Department
of Fisheries and Oceans was forced to do groundfish surveys in Sydney Bight
at the time Hunt Oil was planning seismic tests. Just prior to the federal
election of November 28, 2000, federal and provincial energy ministers responded
to this movement by directing the CNSOPB to conduct a "public review" and
"environmental assessments" of the leases around Cape Breton. The comeback
by the Chrétien Liberals in Atlantic Canada strengthened their hand.
They promised "public consultation" only to turn around and authorize Corridor,
through the CNOSPB, a free hand to go ahead precisely three years later to
The entire scheme to promote conciliation to the oil trusts and the government
in the name of "peaceful coexistence" failed for the most part. Far from
making any case for seismic tests, the presentations of the oil trusts, which
were all smoke and mirrors, could not hide the fact that they were hell-bent
on exploitation and plunder, even if they were having no luck at all in trying
to justify it. The entire process was a public relations exercise aimed to
cover up the fact that it is the U.S. oil trusts and their handmaidens who
will reap the fabulous profits, and are the complete negator of economic
development, the marine environment, and sovereignty and governance. The
process only worsened the credibility crisis that the oil trusts and the
federal and provincial governments are facing in the eyes of Maritimers,
Newfoundlanders, Québecois and the First Nations who have not and
will not reconcile themselves to the U.S. oil trusts.
Over the last two years of the "public review" process, many who oppose the
seabed exploration by the American oil trusts have asked themselves the same
question about protests from a different angle. "How can our opposition make
any real difference?" This is understandable as people are becoming more
and more experienced with just how unrepresentative this first-past-the-post,
party dominated system of Parliamentary democracy really is and the role
of the regulatory bodies of the government in ruling by decree. Thus this
popular movement raises a most important question of our time: who decides?
All the changes to each of the major laws of Canada governing the oceans,
fisheries and the marine environment are implemented through Cabinet decree,
without so much as a Parliamentary debate on the matter. It is not that one
bad legislation or act is "profoundly anti democratic" while others are democratic
as some conciliators wishfully suggest. Because of the opposition to the
Canadian people to this modus operandi, Canadian governments now permit "public
consultations" and "environmental reviews". These mechanisms are used
in part to defuse opposition and settle inter-monopoly contradictions. "Consultation"
does not mean input or decision-making authority, let alone consensus. In
the end, they are all used to reiterate the "right" of the Executive
Power to impose its dictate.
This ongoing trend more than underscores the kinds of problems in and from
the oceans that the Canadian people will face in the coming year, as new
arrangements are put into place by the Martin Liberals to better serve the
imperialist interests of the molochs of oil, fish and shipping, especially
those of the U.S.
"We found what the fishermen already knew, that DFO does not and will not
listen to science or to reason," Mr. Butler of the Ecology Action Centre
told people demonstrating in Halifax. "They only respond to power."
The fact that the question "Protests do no good" or "Will our opposition
make any difference?" is posed merely reflects how people are debating
and striving to overcome their marginalization from the instruments of governance
and decision-making power over the affairs of Canadian society.
This movement raises another most important question of our time. Can the
U.S. oil trusts be permitted to do whatever they please, at home or abroad,
even if the federal and provincial governments endorse them at the very step
of the way and even if the people are opposed to it? Can Canadians permit
the multinationals of another nation to dictate how they should act?
The overwhelming majority of Maritimers and the people of Quebec are opposed
to plunder and exploitation by the U.S. oil multinationals and the integration
and annexation of Canada by the United States. The wall of silence erected
by the mainstream media and its disinformation does not mean that there has
not been a tenacious struggle or that the ultimate stakes are minor.
Demonstrations, petitions and other initiatives of the people have already
made this difference: the people have resolved the direction in which they
do not want to continue. These actions are the expressions of the people
of Canada organizing and mobilizing themselves to set the agenda for what
kind of Canada they do want. The renewal of Canada in which the people are
the decision-makers on how to humanize the environment is an integral part
of that vision of the Canadian people for a modern, enlightened Canadian
society and an independent and sovereign nation. Let the efforts of the people
put an end to the plunder of the U.S. oil trusts and the corporate fishery!
It can be done.
To be continued
A group from the Magdalen Islands is concerned and looking for answers
(JANUARY, Whales-on-line) -- A group of citizens from Les Îles de la
Madeleines is worried. The announcement by Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Hamad last
December concerning impact studies on seismic exploration in the St. Lawrence
has not calmed their fears. Offshore drilling for oil exploration and production
purposes in the Old Harry area near them is imminent, as well as on the Islands
themselves. They demand that the Magdalene Islandsí population be better
informed with regards to the stakes involved and the impacts of these drilling
projects, which are not subjected to public scrutiny.