On the morning of December 21st 2015 Vanessa Gray, a young woman from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, with the support of Stone Stewart and Sarah Scanlon, shut down Enbridge’s Line 9 on Anishnaabe Territory just outside of Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia.
At approximately 7:30am the three arrived at the valve site and called Enbridge Inc. to inform them of the action and requested that the pipeline, and its flow of oil, be turned off. At this point, the three shut down the pipeline’s manual hand wheel and bike locked their necks to the valve in an act of civil disobedience to prevent the operation of the pipeline.
They were arrested, held overnight and released with minimal conditions. All three were charged with counts of Mischief Over $5,000 (maximum sentence of 10 years in prison) and Mischief Endangering Life (maximum sentence of life in prison). Stone Stewart was also charged with Resisting Arrest.
There are no known prior accounts of activists being charged for Mischief Endangering Life, which leads us to believe it is a scare tactic to discourage land defense and resistance against the fossil fuel industry.
Vanessa, Stone and Sarah are currently awaiting trial to fight these charges.
Line 9 is a highly contested tar sands pipeline that began shipping diluted bitumen in December 2015 between Sarnia and Montreal. Those involved in this action assert that the operation of Line 9 is a violation of Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights.
“The crown is failing in their obligation to consult with first nations about pipelines,” said Sarah Scanlon. “As settlers it’s our responsibility to respect Indigenous land rights and support those protecting the land and water on the front-lines.”
Line 9 has faced opposition from several of the 18 First Nations along its route. Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is currently challenging the pipeline in Supreme Court, on the basis of non-consultation. Aamjiwnaang First Nation, among others, testified to the National Energy Board that they were never consulted with when Line 9 was built.
“The fact that line 9 is currently in operation really just adds to the urgency for people to act. I’m here because the negative impacts of the oil industry are taking place right now, every day,” says Stone Stewart.
The tar sands are known to be the second leading cause of de-forestation in the world and permanently contaminate over 7 million barrels of water every day.
Locally, Aamjiwnaang First Nation experiences skewed sex ratios and high rates of cancer, respiratory illness, and developmental disorders as a result of pollution from nearby petrochemical refineries.
“It’s clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide,” Vanessa Gray asserts. “I defend the land and water because it is sacred. I have the right to defend anything that threatens my traditions and culture.”