On Monday January 14th 2019 a large group of individuals surrounded and held space inside a TransCanada compressor station in what is Dish with One Spoon Territory [known as Hamilton, ON]. While one group easily snipped through the fencing and entered the facility to try & force a mainline shutdown, another stayed outside the fence to offer support, set up music, and get a barrel fire going a safe distance away.
We did so in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en peoples at Unis’tot’en & the Gidumt’en checkpoint who were attacked on their unceded homelands by the RCMP for protecting their territories from industry.
The facility we chose operates on the “Chippewa” line – a natural gas mainline that imports from the Appalachia region and directs gas eastward beyond Tkaronto, and westward to fuel tarsands operations in Alberta. We chose a compressor station prior to the directional split for maximum impact. Unfortunately – as successful as our organizing and mobilization were – our primary goal of shutting down the pipeline was not.
On Monday TransCanada [TC Energy] showed us that all they really do care about is money by choosing to ignore their own [and federally mandated] safety operating procedures several times over.
If you were to spend a good number of hours poring over TransCanada’s [or any pipeline company’s] handbooks and emergency response plans, you’d come away with a few things. One; unauthorized individuals on site near infrastructure should prompt the company to shut down and isolate the station – especially if they present any kind of risk to infrastructure operation. Two; manual emergency shutdown buttons are located throughout the site. Three; remote monitoring should show and flag any changes at the station – whether in flow, power systems, or emergency shutoffs – and signal operators to shut down and isolate the station or section.
With all that in mind, we started our day with a phone call. “We’re here. We’re not going away. We are prepared to engage the emergency shutoffs, but maybe you’d rather?” It was meant as a soft warning; something that had worked in other instances, and prompted previous companies to engage their own shutdown procedures.
TransCanada put us on hold.
After twenty minutes, we hung up and called back; “We know it takes you 3 minutes for a complete shutdown and isolation procedure; you have ten. Then we’ll be engaging the emergency shutdown from on-site.”
The ten minute deadline brought nothing.
Emergency shutoff buttons was engaged. None made any change to the operations. Is TransCanada fooling everyone with those buttons, or had they somehow locked out manual operation thanks to the pleasant heads-up we’d been considerate enough to give?
It was around now that other events began unfolding.
Two individuals appeared on the gravel site next to us, climbing giant rock hills with cameras to take photos.
People who had attended a public rally downtown found their way to the site to offer support after hearing about our action. This was a nice reminder that even though we can’t invite everyone to an action initially that there are lots of people wanting to plug in, support, and throw down with us – for Unist’ot’en.
Next, there was a pleasant discovery that some handy beavers had moved some felled birch trees and branches across the driveway entrance which kept police response vehicles at bay.
A white surveillance plane flew low overhead, circling the site.
We received a heartwarming phone call from some Wet’suwet’en folks and allies from the unceded west coast. We all gathered around, listening on speakerphone as they offered their gratitude and thanks, telling us they felt inspired and supported.
And, finally, after nearly 3 hours of gathering forces at the end of the driveway and in neighbouring suburbs, police began their initial approach.
It was very anti-climactic. “How long will you all be here? Do you have everything you need – bathrooms?”
We walked away, upped the music, and feasted on an incredible hot lunch that had been prepared and delivered to the site. Reinvigorated, we continued our escalation by cutting off the primary power to the site – knowing that there were backups but anticipating the TransCanada would see the change on their system and – maybe – begin to take this seriously.
It soon became clear that – for the fourth time – TransCanada was choosing to ignore internal and federal safety procedures for profit.
The only thing left to do was manually operate the valve closures – and a daytime occupation wasn’t necessarily the time for that, especially in conjunction with a limited understanding of the procedure itself.
A helicopter approached from the right of way, circling overhead for a moment.
It was, for now, time to call it a day while we still could.
After 6 hours on site we walked away, grappling with our feelings of grief and inadequacy by reminding ourselves of the smaller victories. Victories like a large mass of people coming together prepared to stand united in a large direct action, which incorporated varying levels of risk and autonomy. Like new people joining us, prepared to take risk after being moved by our action. Being able to offer inspiration and hope to other groups and communities. And even just the clarity that something like it can be done – quite easily – if there’s motivation.
So, dear allies, friends, comrades – if you missed this opportunity be sure to watch for the next. Or create your own.
Silence and inaction are complicity.
Now is the time to stand behind your land acknowledgements. To engage in the action part of decolonization. To shut it all down until this project is shut down, and stand with the Wet’suwet’en trying to protect their homelands.