Protesters follow Harper through his B.C. tour

“It wouldn’t be B.C. without it,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the two sign-wielding protesters were taken off the stage in their catering uniforms. The incident transpired on Jan. 6, during Harper’s talk at the Vancouver Board of Trade, but it wouldn’t be the last time that Harper was met with dissent during his tour of the west coast.  Protesters also flooded the road leading to Harper’s talk to Conservative party supporters at Brentwood College School in Mill Bay.

The security issue, highlighted by two Vancouver Board of Trade protesters, had many people talking, but the group of Mill Bay protesters feel there is something else that should be addressed: increased traffic in the Douglas Strait could increase the risk of a spill.

Communities To Protect Our Coast is a Vancouver Island-based group that helped organize the protest. Sheri Plummer, head of the organization, said during a phone interview that Enbridge’s proposed plan “is ludicrous.” Plummer says the Douglas Strait, “is one of the fourth most dangerous waters in terms of navigation,” and that the traffic will increase drastically with oil transport expansion. Plummer hypothesized 30 per cent of that traffic would be from Enbridge alone.

Dr. Gerald Graham, a marine oil spill expert based in Victoria, pointed out in a phone interview why oil spills of all kinds can have an effect on the coast. Graham talked about how spills can come from any boat that has an engine burning fuel. “I look at it in terms of volumes of oil being transported along our coast,” says Graham. He feels the other types of ships could “pose just as big a risk as the tankers, existing and proposed, because these other vessels that are carrying Bunker C oil don’t get the protection that the tankers get.”

Graham uses an analogy to describe his point, comparing the frequency of large commercial plane crashes to that of small personal aircraft crashes. “We haven’t had a large passenger plane crash in 20 years or something. An amazingly good safety record, and that’s true. I hope it stays that way, but here in B.C., the big risk has been from float planes, smaller planes, and they’re going down all the time.” This, Graham believes, is the same with oil spills. “We haven’t had any big huge ones here in Canada, thank goodness, for quite some time, but there are spills happening almost on a daily basis in this country, including on this coast.” Although people don’t always hear about them, Graham feels that those spills can be “more insidious.”

Graham, like the protesters, feels that the Northern Gateway Pipeline Panel “displays a disturbing tendency to omit the marine transportation component.”

Plummer adds, “We’re looking at so many risks.”

The Canadian Press reports no charges will be laid against the Jan. 6 protesters.

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