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First Nations set to protest Enbridge shareholder meeting over pipeline

TORONTO - West Coast First Nations are planning to protest today at Enbridge's annual meeting of shareholders in Toronto.

The Yinka Dene Alliance and supporters oppose a proposed pipeline that would cross their territory.

The $5.5-billion Northern Gateway project would see crude from Alberta's oil sands moved through a twin pipeline more than 1,100 kilometres to the B.C. coast. From there, supertankers would ship the crude to Asia.

The alliance argues the project poses a threat to the aboriginals' way of life.

Project opponents have been riding a "Freedom Train" from British Columbia to make their point in the country's financial heartland.

"We are where the unbroken wall of opposition to Enbridge's dangerous tar sands pipeline begins," the alliance says.

The protesters, who have held rallies in various centres along their journey eastward, planned to march from a square several blocks east to the downtown hotel where the shareholders will be meeting.

Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) filed its application for Northern Gateway, which would run from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C., almost two years ago. Hearings began in January of this year, and a decision is not expected until late next year.

The company maintains the project would create jobs, stimulate economic development, and be safe.

"Our No. 1 priority is the safety and integrity of our operations and to prevent all spills, leaks and releases," the company says. Opponents argue the potential environmental hazards are too great to be ignored.

According to the alliance, the pipeline would endanger the habitats of the hundreds of rivers and streams it must cross, and would have a drastic impact on First Nations communities if a spill occurred.

First Nations say they rely on the land to sustain and feed themselves.

Apart from the risk of spills from the pipeline itself, there are also concerns about a dramatic increase in tanker traffic along the pristine coastline in waterways that can be treacherous to navigate.

In a statement, the alliance said it was making the journey to send an "unforgettable message" to the pipeline and oil companies, banks and the government: "Tar sands pipelines and supertankers will not be permitted in our lands and waters."

Numerous groups have voiced concerns over the undertaking, complete with a variety of protest rallies.

More than 60 First Nations and aboriginal organizations in B.C. along with the Union of B.C. Municipalities has declared their opposition to the project. Late last month, B.C.'s Opposition New Democrats formally objected to the proposal.

In a letter to the National Energy Board panel that is assessing the project, the party said the pipeline simply isn't in the province's interests. "British Columbia would assume almost all the project's risk, yet would see only a fraction of the benefits," the party said.

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