Pipeline Fight Heads to Supreme Court

Local residents are supporting Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s resistance to what they argue is a dangerously vulnerable crude oil pipeline running through southern Ontario.

A fight to protect water is central to this struggle. Enbridge’s Line 9 is a 40-year-old pipeline that runs from Sarnia to Montreal, through the Grand River and many other ecologically sensitive waterways that lead to the Great Lakes. Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline expert, has determined that Line 9 has an over 90 per cent chance of rupture within the next four years. Kuprewicz and others say that Line 9 is likely to rupture because it was designed to carry regular oil, but Enbridge has switched the contents of the pipeline to tar sands crude, also known as diluted bitumen.

At 11 degrees Celsius, bitumen is as hard as a hockey puck. To make it move several hundred kilometres along a pipeline, bitumen must be heated, highly pressurized, and diluted with heavily toxic and corrosive chemicals, hence the name: diluted bitumen, or dilbit. Dilbit is corrosive, and thinned the wall of a brand new pipeline, Keystone 1, over 95 per cent.

Enbridge tried this exact same project on its Line 6B, a twin pipe to Line 9, with disastrous effects. Some time after switching its contents from regular crude to dilbit, three million litres gushed undetected into the Kalamazoo river over 18 hours. This was the largest inland spill in North American history, and though Enbridge spent over $1 billion attempting to clean up the spill, the fact that diluted bitumen sinks instead of floats made that task basically impossible.

Line 9 is carrying crude from Alberta, whose terrible environmental and human rights records, especially as they affect indigenous communities in the area, are well known. And yet, despite objections from many municipalities and First Nations, and the general consensus that the tar sands are unsustainable, the National Energy Board approved the content switch for Line 9, and a 40 per cent increase in the volume of crude transported through Line 9 every day.

As a result, Line 9 carries diluted bitumen through 18 First Nations communities and over 100 cities, villages and towns, through waterways, farmlands and biologically diverse ecosystsems, under schools, homes, and even next to a childcare centre. None of the oil from Line 9 will heat homes in, or fuel the cars of the community members that Line 9 affects, as the oil will be shipped to Atlantic markets from a refinery in Montreal.

The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, whose reserve is south of London, have been one of the most vocal First Nations opponents throughout the NEB hearing process, and are set to take an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30. Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution enshrines the rights of indigenous peoples, and includes free, prior, and informed consent. The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is arguing that they were not consulted, and that the NEB, as a third party, could not provide meaningful consultation.

We are seeing similar opposition to pipelines across Canada and the US. Water protectors are standing up en masse against Enbridge’s Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs through sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, while the Unist’ot’en camp of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern British Columbia has been protesting numerous pipeline projects for almost a decade. On October 24, 99 youth were arrested in Ottawa while protesting the Northern Gateway pipeline.

These connected struggles make it clear that efforts to fight climate change and ensure adequate resource and energy access for all communities will fail unless they also ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples are respected.

Justin Trudeau spoke often on the campaign trail about how Canada’s most important relationship is with indigenous peoples. The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation will ask for their basic Constitutional rights to be respected by the Supreme Court later this month, for which legal fees are expected to reach $500,000. To find out more, donate to the legal fund, or get details about a November 5 benefit concert in Waterloo, visit