Hardball tactics, co-operation from CSIS give TransCanada edge over pipeline opponents

December 1, 2014

On October 30, TransCanada Corporation submitted its 30,000-page application for the construction of the Energy East pipeline to the National Energy Board (NEB). Company execs, federal and provincial politicians, and promoters in the media say the project is more than just a new route for landlocked tar sands. In a November 6 Globe and Mail op-ed, ormer New Brunswick premier and current deputy chairman of TD Bank Frank McKenna said, “Energy East, much like the Canadian railway, is a true representation of nation-building at its very best.”

Contradicting this faux-patriotism was none other than TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, who explained not 48 hours before filing the NEB application why his company was really building the pipeline. Despite the nationalist spin, and promises to supply East Coast refiners with cheaper crude to replace imports, Girling told the Wall Street Journal on October 28 that Energy East is about opening up a new route to U.S. refiners on the Gulf Coast.

“We can actually go all the way to the Gulf Coast without a presidential permit,” said the CEO, referring to resistance in Washington to the Keystone XL pipeline. “Once we’re on the water, we’ll show up just like any other crude oil in the world in the Houston ship channel.”

The scheme is even economical, said Girling. The cost of moving the oil 4,580 km to Atlantic Canada then putting it on a boat to the Gulf Coast “is probably a couple of bucks more than Keystone,” he told the newspaper. It confirmed an October 29 report by Environmental Defence and Greenpeace that found the Energy East project “would supply very little oil to any Canadian refineries,” and that up to 90% of its capacity would flow unrefined onto tankers for export, with enormous social and environmental consequences.

“[T]his project is actually about putting unrefined oil on massive super-tankers in the St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy. The pipeline would put communities across Canada at risk from major oil spills,” said the report. “A spill from the tankers would threaten ecological and economic disaster for coastal and riverside communities in Quebec, P.E.I., Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Energy East would export jobs but not the danger associated with transporting huge quantities of dirty oil.”

Opposition to the pipeline and associated port infrastructure is growing as people wake up to the probability that its risks far outweigh marginal economic gains along the route. It is especially fierce at the end of the pipeline, where TransCanada hopes to build a marine terminal on the St. Lawrence River.

In mid-October, thousands of people marched in Cacouna, Québéc in opposition to the tar sands export terminal, partly because of how it would affect habitat essential to endangered whales (On December 1, Trans Canada said it was suspending operations at the port construction site in Cacouna after a scientific report recommended beluga wales in the St. Lawrence be declared an endangered species). And from October 26 to November 6, the Council of Canadians, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Fundy Bay Keeper, Stop Energy East Halifax, 350.org and Leadnow co-sponsored an anti-pipeline speakers’ tour through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

One of the speakers on that tour was Ben Gotschall, the energy director of Bold Nebraska, which represents U.S. landowners opposed to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. His group and others south of the border have experienced first-hand the hardball tactics that TransCanada has and will no doubt continue to use against opponents of its new Energy East pipeline.

Hardball tactics

In September 2012, TransCanada endorsed the use by police of “aggressive pain compliance tactics,” including arm twisting, choke holds, pepper spray and tasers against two blockaders involved in a non-violent protest in Texas against the Keystone pipeline. U.S. climate activist Bill McKibben called the tactics “more than a little sadistic” and “hard to imagine—handcuffing someone and then tasering them?”

According to the account of the protesters involved, following the arrest a TransCanada supervisor, “openly congratulated the aggressive Sheriffs Department Lieutenant on a ‘job well done.’ To which the Lieutenant replied: ‘if this happens again we’ll just skip to using pepper spray and tasing in the first 10 minutes.’ ”

About a month later, another group of anti-Keystone activists in Texas was hit with a $5 million SLAPP suit against 19 individuals and three organizations. TransCanada alleged the blockaders, “have engaged in acts of eco-terrorism through their coordinated, orchestrated and ongoing unlawful conduct and have trespassed on Keystone’s property, have interfered with construction of Keystone’s pipeline and/or threatened additional interference with construction of Keystone’s pipeline in an attempt to deny Keystone use of Keystone’s valid right of way.”

The SLAPP suit was later dropped after activists agreed to avoid trespassing on company property, much of it controversially obtained through threat of eminent domain. Many U.S. landowners have subsequently said they were intimidated into signing contractual agreements for their land.

TransCanada also hired a private agency to collect intelligence on activists, and employed private security guards to make arrests. Two New York Times reporters and other journalists have been detained this way.

Bold Nebraska obtained evidence through a freedom of information request showing that TransCanada had provided training to federal agents and local Nebraska police. As reported in February 2013 on the Center for Media and Democracy’s prwatch.org site, the group obtained a slideshow that TransCanada used on December 11, 2012 to brief law enforcement.

“[W]hile the slideshow acknowledges that there has been ‘no physical violence to this point’ [from protesters], it recommends reporting demonstrators to the FBI and suggests prosecution under state and federal anti-terrorism laws,” said the article.

Lauren Regan, legal co-ordinator for the Tar Sands Blockade, a coalition of Texas and Oklahoma residents affected by the pipeline, and executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, called the slideshow, “clear evidence of the collusion between TransCanada and the federal government assisting local police to unlawfully monitor and harass political protestors.

“These documents expose the truth that the government is giving the nod to unlawful corporate spying. By slinging false allegations against peaceful activists in this presentation, TransCanada puts them at risk of unwarranted prosecution,” she said.

Such reports add to Canadian concerns about state spying and the criminalization of protest related to pipeline projects here.

SIRC review

According to government documents acquired through access to information requests and reported by the media in late 2013, the NEB and industry representatives, including TransCanada, have received several security briefings from CSIS and the RCMP related to pipeline activism. Targeted groups include Leadnow, ForestEthics Advocacy, the Council of Canadians, the Dogwood Initiative, EcoSociety, the Sierra Club of B.C., and Idle No More.

In February 2014, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a complaint about RCMP and CSIS spying, asking why these agencies monitor environmental groups, the length of time they have been doing so, and the law allowing such surveillance. The complaint further asked why and what type of information gathered by the RCMP and CSIS is being shared with the petroleum industry and under what authority.

The BCCLA addressed these concerns and questions to the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the watchdog responsible for monitoring the work of CSIS. In September 2014, the BCCLA was informed the review of its complaint would be limited in scope and led by SIRC member Yves Fortier, who is a former director of TransCanada Corp.

BCCLA lawyer Paul Champ wrote back to SIRC on September 25, asking that Fortier recuse himself from the investigation. Champ’s letter stated that in spite of Fortier’s “exemplary reputation,” his involvement creates an appearance of bias. The BCCLA “submits that this is a highly serious complaint [about CSIS spying] and should be handled in a manner that is in every way beyond reproach, with justice not only done, but seen to be done.”

Days later, the Vancouver Observer revealed that Fortier is still a shareholder in TransCanada, possibly holding as much as $100,000 or more in stocks in the company. NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison raised this information in Parliament, calling on Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney to “address the conflict-of-interest” surrounding Fortier’s role in the SIRC review. Blaney responded, “We have full confidence that they will impartially review actions taken by our security services to protect Canadians against threats from any activists or radicals.”

The Harper government now intends to strengthen the role of CSIS and the RCMP by reportedly expanding powers for “preventative arrest,” increasing the “monitoring” of potential domestic “terrorists,” and “making it illegal to write online statements that support a terror group,” according to an October 31 Globe and Mail article.

Other pipelines

TransCanada’s other proposed Canadian pipelines are also contentious. For example, its Coastal GasLink pipeline in northwestern B.C. is to be a 650-km fracked natural gas pipeline to Kitimat, crossing 320 watercourses, which includes the habitat of more than 100 species at risk, in order to bring 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to Shell Canada’s planned LNG project.

TransCanada’s proposed Merrick Mainline Pipeline Project is a 260-km fracked natural gas pipeline that would extend from Dawson Creek, B.C. to Summit Lake (just north of Prince George), where it would connect with the controversial Pacific Trail Pipeline for delivery of gas to Chevron’s planned LNG facility near Kitimat. In total, TransCanada has $12.6 billion invested in four natural gas pipelines under development in the province.

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.