Solidarity with Heiltsuk Nation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 20, 2016

Vancouver, B.C. – Controversy continues to swirl around the Federal Government’s slow and inadequate response to the significant amounts of diesel oil that continue to seep out of the sunken tug, Nathan E. Stewart in BC’s Great Bear Rainforest. On Vancouver’s Breakfast Television, Prime Minister Trudeau dodged questions regarding his campaign promise to ban oil tanker traffic in the world-famous region, and instead blamed the previous government for the disaster for years of “under-investment”.

Late last week the Nathan E Stewart ran aground in Heiltsuk First Nation traditional territorial waters releasing huge amounts of diesel oil into the water forcing an emergency closure of the Heiltsuk Nation’s seafood beds.

Members of the Heiltsuk Nation, who observed and reported the spill response as it occurred, clearly and consistently described it as “totally inadequate”. Their nation’s waters have been polluted with diesel fuel and their clam and seafood beds are closed indefinitely, costing them tens of thousands of dollars in the short-term and long-term damage to their economy that will be difficult to revitalize. The Heiltsuk Nation are calling for an immediate implementation of a full and complete tanker ban that the Prime Minister campaigned on in 2015.

“This oil spill, described as a heartbreaking nightmare by the Heiltsuk, is a sobering reminder of why we need a legislated ban on oil tankers for BC’s north coast,” said Sierra Club BC’s campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon. “There is nothing ‘world-class’ or effective about spill response that takes 20 hours to arrive. It’s not enough to talk about protecting the coast, when is this government going to stand by their word and legislate a strong tanker ban?”

Spill response on the BC coast is privatized and carried out by Western Canada Marine Response Corporation. The company is 51%-owned by Kinder Morgan, who has come under fire for their lack of clarity and detail in the spill response plans submitted with their pipeline and tanker project application that, if approved, would lead to a 700% increase in tankers transiting through Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea.

Environmental organizations like Stand, the Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club BC, West Coast Environmental Law, Greenpeace, the Georgia Strait Alliance, Force of Nature, North Shore NOPE and civil society organizations like Lead Now and SumofUs support the Heiltsuk call for a tanker ban, while noting that effective fossil fuel spill clean-up technology does not yet exist.

“Improvements to any sort of spill response off BC’s coast are obviously overdue and desperately needed,” said Sven Biggs of Stand. “But industry considers 10-15% recovery of a spill ‘successful’ – that is just not good enough. Prevention is the only real solution. That’s why so many British Columbia communities and nations, municipalities and individuals oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project that would see 400 tankers a year through Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea.”

While the impacts of the diesel oil spill have been considerable for the marine environment, there are also major social and economic costs to the Heiltsuk Nation.

“Our heart goes out to the Heiltsuk who have lost their winter harvest in this spill. No community should ever have to go through this. Botched responses, poisoned waters and ruined livelihoods are becoming far too familiar,” said Peter McCartney from the Wilderness Committee.

“Aside from the obvious impacts of this disaster, what also gets to me is the passing of the buck over who should take responsibility for this nightmare. The Premier blamed the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister blamed the previous Prime Minister. They could learn from the Heiltsuk who have demonstrated true leadership during this crisis,” noted Greenpeace’s Eduardo Sousa. “In fact the Feds should take their lead from First Nations on what fixes need to be done to prevent this from ever happening again.”

A strong tanker ban is the only sure way to protect British Columbia’s coastal waters from a devastating oil spill.

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Full Transcript:

Breakfast Television interviewer Riaz Meghji:
“And with the protection of the environment, there’s been much talk, here on the West Coast, with the recent diesel spill here in the waters off of Great Bear Rainforest, our premier has been critical of the federal government in terms of the disaster cleanup. What is your response to the idea of calls for an all-out tanker ban, to avoid these types of things happening in the first place?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“Well over, over the past years there’s been a lot of under investment by the federal government in marine safety and spill response and that’s something we’re absolutely committed to turn around and one of the symbols of that is uh, as — uh, well as someone who knows Vancouver and the Lower Mainland as well as I do — one of the first things we did was reopen the Kits Coast Guard base. Because we understand that having responders there if something happens is absolutely essential. We’re continuing to make historic investments in marine safety, spill response, and the kind of protection of our extraordinary coast not just for its pristine natural beauty but for the tens of thousands of British Columbians who make their livings on those waters every single day.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Caitlyn Vernon, Campaigns Director, Sierra Club BC (250) 896-3500, caitlyn@sierraclub.bc.ca
Sven Biggs, Campaigner, Stand (formerly Forest Ethics), 778 882 8354 sven@stand.earth
Peter McCartney, Climate Campaigner, Wilderness Committee 778-239-1935, peter@wildernesscommittee.org
Sarah Beuhler, For the Coast, 778-988-2323, sarah@forthecoast.ca

 

 

Image credit: Alan Vernon, Flickr Creative Commons