By Ramon Gonzalez
Western Catholic Reporter
The ecumenical group Kairos says the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. would have serious implications on the economy, ecology and Canada’s relations with aboriginal people.
“Key concerns for Kairos include whether or not indigenous rights will be fully respected,” says Jennifer Henry, the group’s executive director.
Those rights, Henry said, include:
- The right to free, prior, and informed consent.
- The impact on the environment in the event of a pipeline rupture or tanker spill.
- What the pipeline project says about Canada’s dependence on a fossil-fuel, export oriented energy strategy, and its connection to climate change.
In a discussion paper released in July, Kairos said the focus on the anticipated wealth the pipeline would create threatens to obscure the magnitude of the challenges it would pose to the environment and to the survival of the aboriginal people whose territory it crosses.
“A spill would devastate livelihoods, the land, food sources and the ability to pass on to future generations, values, principles, languages and core aspects of how these peoples’ cultures are practised.”
Kairos’ ethical paper on the Enbridge project is entitled Ethical Reflections on the North Gateway Pipeline. “It is a tool for discussion and further consideration,” said Henry in an email interview.
“It is meant to provide member churches with information on a project with the potential to have a huge impact on people who live along its route and beyond, as well as on the environment.”
Kairos members include the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Quakers, the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church of Canada.
Several churches have already spoken on the issue, with some declaring outright opposition to the $6-billion Enbridge project.
The Catholic bishops have not made a statement on the project, noted Bob McKeon, director of social justice for the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
However, there are statements from the bishops and from the Vatican that speak of aboriginal rights and environmental responsibility, McKeon said.
“My main concern is that in the present environment the federal government is trying to move too fast and (has) not paid adequate seriousness to the ethical conversations that have to happen around this,” he said.
“There are long-term concerns here and they have to be brought to the table and trying to rush it too fast and trying to dismiss the environmental voices, trying to put aside the aboriginal voices run the risk of making a decision that does not take these ethical concerns seriously.”
McKeon said the question of aboriginal rights has to be respected. “That means consultation and participation of aboriginal peoples, not after the fact, but in the very way the proposal gets developed.”
According to Kairos, the federal government has indicated in numerous ways that the voices of the First Nations along the pipelines and tanker routes may not be respected.
“Much of the consultation has been delegated to Enbridge, even before the hearings began; and government statements point to a pre-determined outcome,” the paper says.
In the interview, Henry said it is important that people are aware of public statements by federal government ministers and officials that suggest the project is inevitable and not contingent on the review process.
Kairos is not opposed to the pipeline, just concerned about its potential impact on people and the environment, Henry said.
“With a project of this magnitude it is necessary for people to be informed in order for them to be able to reach their own conclusions,” she said.
“Such a serious public policy issue with so many potential implications on lives, communities and our relations with the natural world is relevant to people of faith. We understand our relation to our neighbour and creation to be linked to our relation to God.”
Enbridge’s 1,172-km pipeline would carry up to 525,000 barrels a day of diluted bitumen to the West Coast for export by supertankers, primarily to Asia, while a second pipeline would carry 193,000 barrels of condensate, used to dilute the bitumen, back to Alberta each day.
The pipelines would traverse hundreds of streams and rivers where salmon spawn and cut through a landscape prone to landslides and occasional earthquakes.
Jobs are a key benefit of the proposed pipeline but Henry says it is necessary to examine closely the nature of the jobs that will be created.
The Kairos paper notes that First Nations groups along the coast, maintain that 56,000 jobs in fishing and tourism would be at risk in the event of a pipeline or tanker spill.