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Hundreds of Vancouverites protest oil tankers

Hundreds gathered at Second Beach Sunday afternoon, and hundreds more filled boats and kayaks in Burrard Inlet, to protest against oil tankers anywhere in B.C.’s coastal waters.

Greenpeace, No Tanks and the Wilderness Committee organized the two-phase protest. The crowd at Second Beach cheered, chanted and waved signs, and a flotilla of more than fifty boats sailed from False Creek to Lions Gate Bridge.

On the lead boat, Rex Weyler from No Tanks, encouraged protestors to add their signatures to a ‘No Tanker’ banner that would be delivered by Adriane Carr, deputy leader of the federal Green Party, to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa.

Hanging from the rigging of the fishing boat, a large sign read:

‘Keep BC Beautiful Ban Oil Tankers Now’

“We’re asking for an absolute 100 per cent ban on crude oil tankers on the West Coast of British Columbia,” Weyler said.

“Right now about two large tankers a week are shipping oil from the tar sands predominately to China. Kinder Morgan, who owns the pipeline, managed to get an increase in their capacity to 300,000 barrels of oil per day to Vancouver.”

Weyler said Kinder Morgan was hoping to increase the number of tankers navigating Burrard Inlet’s narrow passage to ten per week.

“We don’t believe the tar sands should be a project of Canada. It’s the dirtiest oil in the world. We don’t want to be the shipping port for the tar sands,” he said.

“There was no consultation with the public to decide that we were going to become the tar sands shipping port. It was done not only without our consent but without our knowledge.”

The flotilla sailed past another group of protestors at Third Beach. The group, organized by Greenpeace, floated out into the waves wearing bright yellow lifejackets and spelling out ‘SOS’. The protestors on the boats chanted the message “save our shores.”

Stephanie Goodwin, B.C. Director, Greenpeace, reflected on Sunday’s action.

“I think today was raging success,” Goodwin said. We had a goal of having at least fifty boats on the water, we clearly had that, and we had a goal of having at least 500 people out to the rally.”

Goodwin also addressed concerns that this protest and others like it may fall on deaf ears in Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has not been receptive to calls for a tanker ban.

“I think it is a challenging prospect to get Stephen Harper’s government to take action. Fortunately we have a federal NDP, federal Liberals and a Green Party that all support an oil tanker ban for the North Coast, which is the first step to getting the whole coast protected.”

Currently there are two Private Members’ Bills before the House of Commons – introduced by NDP MPs Don Davies and Fin Donnelly – calling for a prohibition on oil tankers in B.C.’s northern coastal waters.

The diverse crowd at Second Beach started to gather at noon. By 2 p.m. it had reached close to 500. They were excited, hopeful and optimistic that their efforts Sunday afternoon could lead to a ban on oil tankers in B.C.

Seth Klein, B.C. Director, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, mingled in the crowd.

“I think a lot of British Columbians are concerned about the degree to which Canada is so tied in with the oil sands,” Klein said. “This is a new issue for a lot of us that didn’t realize tankers carrying oil from the oil sands come through here.”

Klein also commented on the impact of the tar sands on the Canadian economy. “The tar sands dominate other industries because our dollar is effectively a petro-dollar right now, and that means there are a lot of unemployed Canadians paying the price for the tar sands because their industries are affected by that petro-dollar.”

Lynn Osler was another attendee. She volunteered at a petition booth for the Wilderness Committee.

“Each of those tankers carries up to 700,000 barrels of oil, it would be a disaster if there was a spill in our inlet, and I don’t doubt that it would happen because it is pretty narrow in there,” she said.

Before the protest the VPD Marine Unit removed at least two Greenpeace zodiacs from the water. Greenpeace planned to use four zodiacs to ferry people from the beach to the boats. With some of the boats unavailable other protesters volunteered their zodiacs, dinghies and kayaks to help get people where they needed to go.

Weyler wasn’t happy that the VPD wouldn’t allow some of the boats to be used. He claimed the police confiscated them.

When reached for comment, Constable Jamie Gibson, VPD Marine Unit, said he wasn’t at the protest but to the best of his knowledge no boats were confiscated. At least two boats were not allowed in the water because they did not have the correct safety equipment on board. Constable Norm Webster, VPD Marine Unit, was on the scene but was unavailable for comment.

Calyn Shaw is a Vancouver journalist pursuing his MA at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.

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