Oral statement to the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel

by Canon Ken Gray
an Anglican priest, given as an individual statement, but using a KAIROS document on climate change
Victoria, January 7, 2013

For my presentation I draw significantly on a paper published by KAIROS: the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiative titled Ethical Reflections on the Northern Gateway Pipeline. I understand Ethics as the moral correctness of a specific plan or project, where what can be done is not necessarily what should be done. The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline presents intersecting ethical challenges for economy, ecology and Canada’s relations with Indigenous peoples.

Concerning indigenous dialogue, the proposal threatens land and treaty rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

Environmentally, the proposal lacks an understanding of the integrity of Creation, complete with an appreciation of Earth’s natural limits. The proposal places value in short-term profit over any sense of the ecosystem affected as inherently valuable, and as a complex and essential part of our shared existence. It inadequately addresses concerns around social accommodation and lacks respect for local wisdom.

The potential ecological harm of the Gateway project, both from possible ruptures and spills, and through increased global climate change, poses serious challenges to a perspective that prioritizes care for a vulnerable earth. The Gateway project poses threats of contamination, and will significantly increase carbon emissions which will exacerbate climate change that  will in turn disrupt a delicate and awe-inspiring eco-system.

Additional negative effects are named by a majority of First Nations communities that would be affected by the pipeline. Opposition has been expressed in a variety of ways including through the Save the Fraser Declaration a piece of Indigenous law which can be considered authoritatively alongside Canadian law if attempted.

That said, the federal government’s Aboriginal consultation framework for Northern Gateway does not ensure that impacts to Aboriginal rights and title will be taken into account in the decision. Respecting Indigenous Peoples’ jurisdiction over their lands remains a foundational legal principle, especially when considered with the UN Declaration which calls for the recognition and implementation of Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) as a minimum standard for consultation when projects that will impact Indigenous lands. Failing to recognize these rights jeopardizes the very survival of Indigenous peoples. Many First Nations fear an oil spill or pipeline rupture would cause ecological devastation as well as grave damage to the livelihoods and cultural identity of Indigenous peoples in the region.

Christians and other faith traditions unite increasingly around the so-called golden rule: treat others as you wish to be treated or the inverse (and original form): do not treat others as you do not wish to be treated. The rule thrives within the human community and equally so between humanity and creation itself. If you do not wish to be exhausted, ignored, trodden upon, taken, even sacrificed for the benefit of others, then do not act in a similar manner.

Concerning the relationship between humanity and creation such a dialogue introduces the element of risk and a “duty of care” embodied in the precautionary principle. A precautionary approach states if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

Proponents of the pipeline struggle to meet the standard of such a principle, despite recent pipeline breaches in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Increased risk in exploration, extraction and transmission of oil, bitumen and other fossil products will inevitably lead to increased spillage and damage. The data speak for themselves.

The data of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Gospels describe the ways in which our care of those living on the margins is directly related to our dedication to God. This causes Christians at least to look carefully at situations that dramatically increase risk—risk of ecological harm, disruption of livelihood, and erosion of cultural identity—to communities, such as the First Nations communities along the Northern Gateway route who with others struggle with legacies of injustice and inequity.

Literally thousands of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians gathered recently in Victoria for a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (enacted in public with no disruptive incidents by the way). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Interim Report said in its recommendations:

Reconciliation . . . will require changes in the relationship between Aboriginal people and the government of Canada. The federal government, along with the provincial governments, historically has taken a social welfare approach to its dealings with Aboriginal people. This approach fails to recognize the unique legal status of Aboriginal peoples as the original peoples of this country. Without that recognition, we run the risk of continuing the assimilationist policies and the social harms that were integral to the residential schools.

New relationships must be fashioned in the present moment and resource development negotiations such as this very review process provide an ideal opportunity and essential and timely forum en encourage such nation-to-nation negotiations. For such standards, Chief Theresa Spence has laid her very life on the line. And she won’t likely be the only one.

Returning to environment, Canadians are no different from other global citizens. We learn best through personal experience. Recent storms in North America, including Hurricane Sandy, record-breaking winter storms in Ontario, Quebec and Maritime Canada this past Christmas, and the June 2012 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest derecho (DE-RAY-CHO) tell us that something is happening in the environment. When you put a pot on the stove and heat it up, things happen, quickly, and uncontrollably. Weather and climate is governed by the same laws of physics, chemistry and biology, though on a massive scale. Extreme events are fast becoming the norm. As carbon is shifted from the ground to the atmosphere, the process of climate change intensifies. It is quite likely that the next IPCC report will raise concerns about a one degree increase in average global temperature, well below the current two degree threshold cited by most commentators. The release of massive amounts of carbon contained in the tar sands would push us past a tipping point where a runaway greenhouse effect endangering life on Earth as we know it is inevitable.

In conclusion Northern Gateway threatens the survival of the First Nations 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 practiced. It is not worth the ecological risk or the social disenfranchisement of First Nations. It will significantly increase CO2 emissions, especially when foreign export and usage calculations are applied. It will harm creation irretrievably. It is not in the long term interests of Canada or our international reputation. It will injure us all and provide a shameful heritage for generations to come.

I first urge panel members to recommend that the project not proceed. I further urge panel members to remind government of its own commitments around healing and reconciliation.