Last week, I spent more than 36 hours on a bridge, standing and sleeping more than 100 feet in the air in order to block the path of a tanker carrying oil from the Alberta tar sands — not what you might expect from a former volunteer for Rachel Notley, who yesterday indicated her government was likely to buy a stake in the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.
This was the first time I’d ever participated in a non-violent direct action of this kind on such a scale. It was also the first time in my life that I’ve been arrested.
On July 3 at 2:00 a.m., accompanied by 11 other people, I began to climb the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver, B.C. Seven of us would soon rappel from the bridge, supported by myself and four other courageous people who secured their safety and well-being from the bridge catwalk above. Together, we blocked the path of an oil tanker, Serene Sea, while it was docked at Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline terminal. We blocked the tanker’s path for more than 36 hours until we were extracted by the RCMP.
Each of us had our own reasons for being up on that bridge. For me, it was the anger that had been building up inside me as I watched my party, the Alberta NDP, lose its way. During these hours, and in the days that followed, I’ve had time to reflect on what brought me on that bridge.
I believed in Notley's vision for Alberta
I moved to Edmonton, Alberta, from Cairo, Egypt, in 2007, and have been a settler on Treaty 6 ever since. This land, this city is special to me. I became a member of the NDP in 2011. I volunteered for Rachel Notley’s leadership campaign in 2014, a year before she outdid everyone’s expectation and won the election. I believed in her vision for Alberta, which included a serious just transition to a green economy. But as her term as Premier went on, I slowly became disillusioned by her decisions, especially when she decided to put all of her political eggs in the basket of Texan oil company, Kinder Morgan.
It started with the ridiculous ban on B.C. wine. Then the government spent taxpayer dollars on a marketing campaign on the company’s behalf. They also passed protectionist “turn off the taps” legislation to choke off petroleum shipments to B.C. While I was under the impression that I was a card-carrying member of a social democratic party, I watched my party revert to nationalism and protectionism.
I watched them trying to make me hate my neighbours to the west. I watched them trying to make me ignore the lack of consent to the project from First Nations who would be impacted by the pipeline. Premier Notley’s NDP have made the Trans Mountain Expansion Project the ballot box question for the fast-approaching May 2019 election. That was a choice they made.
While Notley’s actions left me dazed and disenchanted, none of them matched the federal government’s audacity in purchasing the existing pipeline and expansion project infrastructure outright to the tune of $4.5 billion in Canadians’ money. As someone with left-leaning politics, I have been given multiple lectures from people on the right about the evils of deficit-spending—people who are now only too happy to see the federal government fork out billions in taxpayers dollars to clean up an oil company’s mess. Any talk about not having enough money to bring water treatment on First Nation reserves up to the standard enjoyed by settler Canadians is now a farce, given that it would cost less than the buyout.
Governments are accountable to people, not corporations
When I lost my political party, non-violent direct action became the only tool I had to stand up for my beliefs. And when the Premier Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau decided to purchase this project, the idea of getting arrested for this cause stopped scaring me. The interests of Canadians, especially those communities living on the margins, should always come before the interests of wealthy shareholders of a Texas oil company.
That principle, the idea that governments are accountable to people and not corporations, is worth standing up for.
It was truly an honour for me to play a small role in the Indigenous-led resistance to protect water, land and our climate from tar sands pipelines like the Trans Mountain Expansion. After seeing the dedication of the team behind the Ironworker Bridge blockade, I know that we will win this fight. From Alberta to B.C., the people will stop this pipeline together.
Farid Iskandar is an organizer with Climate Justice Edmonton. He spent 36 hours on a bridge helping to blockade an oil tanker as part of a Greenpeace Canada protest on July 3rd and 4th.