Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004

Four years in the battle for our shores (Part One)

"Boat in place; Protests do no good"

-- Inverness Oran headline, December 17, 2003

"Native fails to win injunction to stop seismic testing off Cape Breton"

-- Canadian Press headline, December 11, 2003


(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 Board."

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 month.

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.

Who decides?

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.