Canadians demonstrate against Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, 2010-2014


Termination of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines project, as well as similar tar sands projects

Time period notes

The endpoint of the campaign is not clear. It seems that the majority of protest actions took place while the Joint Review Panel held its community hearings. In other words, between 2012 and 2013.

Time period

2 December, 2010 to 20 June, 2014



Location City/State/Province

British Columbia

Location Description

Many cities in the province
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 2nd segment

Methods in 6th segment

  • Symbolic blockade

Additional methods (Timing Unknown)

Segment Length

Approximately seven months

Notes on Methods

At some point in the campaign, in the Unist'ot'en encampment in Wet'suwet'en territory, indigenous people built and then lived in cabins to blockade the Northern Gateway.


First Nations (Indigenous Nations of the Fraser River Watershed, Yinka Dene Alliance, Coastal First Nations)


not known

External allies

Indigenous Environmental Network; Council of Canadians; Tanker Free BC; Greenpeace Canada; Occupy Vancouver Environmental Justice; Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union; Canadian Auto Workers; BC Teachers' Federation; Canadian Union of Public Employees--BC; United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union-CAW

Involvement of social elites

Stephen Lewis, David Suzuki, Maude Barlow, Naomi Klein, Tom Goldtooth, David Coles, Bill McKibben, Tony Clarke, Mark Ruffalo, Daryl Hannah, Michael Moore, Ellen Page, Pamela Anderson, Peter Keleghan, and Tantoo Cardinal all expressed support for the mass sit-in on 22 October 2012.


Government of Canada, Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper, Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark, Enbridge Inc.

Nonviolent responses of opponent

not known

Campaigner violence

not known

Repressive Violence

While the perpetrators are unknown, the Unist'ot'en encampment in Wet'suwet'en territory suffered several acts of arson. A homemade bomb was also set off in the territory.





Group characterization

People from all walks of life

Groups in 1st Segment

Indigenous Nations of the Fraser River Watershed
Yinka Dene Alliance
Coastal First Nations

Segment Length

Approximately seven months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

4 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

8 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The same day that Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau officially rejected the Northern Gateway, he approved two other tar sands projects: Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge's Line 3.

Database Narrative

Proposed in the mid-2000s, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines was a project to build a 731.4-mile-long twin pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. While its eastbound line would have carried 193,000 barrels of natural gas condensate per day, its westbound line would have moved 525,000 barrels of crude oil per day to a marine terminal, where it would be picked up by oil tankers destined for Asia. The initial budget for the project was $5.5 billion.

On 27 May 2010, despite a ban on oil tankers declared by nine coastal First Nations two months prior, Enbridge Inc. submitted the project to the National Energy Board for assessment by a three-member Joint Review Panel.

Later that year, on 25 November 2010, representatives from numerous First Nations gathered for two days in Williams Lake to discuss the protection of the Fraser River watershed. At the culmination of their meeting, 61 First Nations signed the Save the Fraser Declaration, in which they declared: “We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories, and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.”

The next week, on 2 December 2010 in downtown Vancouver, members of those same 61 First Nations marched and drummed through the streets to the headquarters of Enbridge, where they delivered their declaration of opposition.

On 11 May 2011, about 40 people, led by the Yinka Dene Alliance, marched through downtown Calgary in Alberta, also to protest the project.

By the end of 2011, 130 First Nations had voiced public opposition to the Northern Gateway, and the Joint Review Panel had announced that it had extended their review process by a year to accommodate the 4,300 people who intended to speak at the regulatory hearings beginning in early 2012.

As the Joint Review Panel traveled around British Columbia to different cities and towns, it was often met by public displays of opposition, with First Nations at the forefront. On 1 April 2012 in Bella Bella, for example, an estimated third of the town’s 1,095 residents participated in a rally targeted at the panel and Enbridge representatives. Participants lined the streets with signs that read, “Oil Is Death,” “We Have the Moral Right to Say No,” “Keep Our Oceans Blue,” “Our Way of Life Cannot Be Bought!” and “I Can’t Drink Oil.” The same day, the village initiated a 48-hour hunger strike, coordinated by students and staff at the Bella Bella Community School, to draw attention to the risks that the project would pose to their food sources and traditional way of life.

In July 2012, in the wake of revelations about Enbridge’s mismanagement of a massive oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark expressed concerns that the environmental risks of the Northern Gateway outweighed its economic benefits. Previously, Clark had not taken a  public position on the pipeline project.

Meanwhile, amidst news of oil spills in Alberta and other parts of North America, public opposition to the project continued to mount. On 7 August 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper qualified his commitment to the Northern Gateway, even though his government had previously shown strong support for the project. “The government obviously wants to see British Columbia’s export trade continue to grow and diversify. That’s important. But projects have to be evaluated on their own merits,” he told reporters during a visit to British Columbia.

Polls at the time indicated that the pipeline had become widely unpopular in British Columbia. On 10 September 2012, The Star reported, “The scope of the political opposition and the likelihood of years of court action by the 100-plus aboriginal groups opposing the pipeline are fanning doubts about whether it will ever get past the drawing board, despite the Harper government’s support.”

A little over a month later, on 22 October 2012, an estimated 4,700 Canadians from all walks of life gathered for one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the country’s history: a mass sit-in outside the Victoria legislature, inspired by the 2011 sit-ins in Washington, DC that brought national coverage to the Keystone XL pipeline project. The coalition group Defend Our Coast designed the action to demonstrate opposition to all further developments of pipelines transporting Alberta oil sands to the coast.

Groups that supported the sit-in included the Indigenous Environmental Network; the Yinka Dene Alliance; the Coastal First Nations; the Council of Canadians; Tanker Free BC; Greenpeace Canada; Occupy Vancouver Environmental Justice; the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union; Canadian Auto Workers; the BC Teachers’ Federation; the Canadian Union of Public Employees—BC; and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union-CAW.

After a solidarity rally with public speeches from First Nations elders and labor, environmental, and social justice leaders, participants of the sit-in hammered a black fabric banner the length of a 245-meter-long supertanker into the ground to symbolize their unbroken wall of opposition. Police attended, but they kept their distance and made no arrests. On Twitter, participants and supporters publicized the action with the hashtag #DefendOurCoast, which became the most commonly used hashtag in Canada around 2 p.m. that day.

More than 80 leaders from Canada’s business, environmental, labor, academic, medical, artistic, and First Nations communities endorsed the sit-in, among them Stephen Lewis, David Suzuki, Maude Barlow, Naomi Klein, Tom Goldtooth, David Coles, Bill McKibben, and Tony Clarke. Entertainers such as Mark Ruffalo, Daryl Hannah, Michael Moore, Ellen Page, Pamela Anderson, Peter Keleghan, and Tantoo Cardinal also expressed their support for the action.

The day after the mass sit-in, as part of a Defend Our Coast BC-Wide Day of Action, more than 7,100 people participated in almost 70 community actions, during which they linked arms in front of the offices of members of the legislative assembly.

In their 24 October Action Report, Defend Our Coast wrote, “We’re already seeing the change. We saw much stronger language from our politicians. New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix applied his ‘made in BC’ test for Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline to include the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion plan. And many BC Liberals went on the record today with much stronger statements about tar sands pipelines and tankers, including BC Cabinet Minister Ida Chong, who said that without First Nations support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline she will have to tell Premier Christy Clark that the pipeline simply can’t go forward.”

The community hearings came to an end in January 2013. Of the 1,161 citizens who addressed the Joint Review Panel at the hearings, all but two opposed the pipeline project. In addition, of the 9,567 written comments submitted to the panel, more than 95 percent of them opposed the pipeline project. Nevertheless, in December 2013, when the Joint Review Panel completed its review of the project, it recommended that Enbridge build the pipeline subject to 209 conditions. By then, 31 municipal governments, two regional districts, the Union of BC Municipalities, 160 First Nations, and six unions had publicly voiced their opposition to the Northern Gateway.

Six months later, on 17 June 2014, the federal government approved the project. In response to the decision, a large coalition of First Nations, Councils, and Assemblies initiated a legal suit against the Government of Canada. Meanwhile, the BC democracy group Dogwood Initiative declared a campaign for a province-wide vote on the project, organized by First Nations and environmental groups. Within a month of its launch, more than 200,000 British Columbians had signed the “Let BC Vote” pledge.

On 20 June 2014, the Gitga’at band up north in Hartley Bay completed a project started by village women in April, when they strung a three-and-a-half-kilometer-long “Chain of Hope” across the Douglas Channel. Crocheted out of multi-colored yarn and adorned with mementos, the chain signified a symbolic blockade of the oil tankers that would traverse the waterway were the pipeline to be constructed.

Despite the Harper government’s approval of the pipeline project, both the New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau asserted that the project would not proceed if either won the federal election. Sure enough, a little over one year after Trudeau took office as prime minister in 2015, the Northern Gateway was dead. On 30 June 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the previous government’s approval of the Northern Gateway project on the grounds that the federal government ignored the concerns of First Nations and mandated a re-evaluation of the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation. On 29 November 2016, Trudeau officially rejected the project.


The 22 October 2012 mass sit-in outside the Victoria legislature was inspired by the 2011 sit-ins in Washington, DC that brought national coverage to the Keystone XL pipeline project.


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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Sacha Lin, 27/05/2019