Bike Block to the East Montreal Petroleum Wasteland

MONTREAL – On Thursday, April 1, 2010, a group of over 70 left Dominion Square in the heart of Montreal to make the 15 km journey to the city’s east end to shine a light on the largest urban oil refining center in Canada.  Drawing contingents of activists from various student, social and environmental justice groups, the Bike Bloc organized by Climate Justice Montreal made its way down Rene Levesque to Berri and up to Sherbrooke Street, heading on a collision course with the Enbridge Trailbreaker Tar Sands expansion pipeline.

Bikers Occupy the Road as two climbers from CJM hoist a massive banner. Photo Cred Tristan Glenn.

“The east end of Montreal is a seldom seen and discussed region, but it is the largest urban oil refining center in Canada,” said Pierre-Olivier Parent, an organizer with Climate Justice Montreal.  ”It is a vast wasteland of oil, gas and chemical storage tanks, threatening the health of local residents and all Montrealers. If completed the Trailbreaker would bring the direct effects of the Tar Sands right here.”’

The bikes entered the post-apocalyptic petroleum wasteland just beyond the last metro station, passing first by Shell Canada’s Montreal Development. The massive refinery has recently been put up for sale, announced by “A Vendre” signs lining the road, proudly offering up “800 skilled employees” as part of the package deal for any eager buyer.

“Rather than expanding the petroleum infrastructure that is destroying ecosystems and communities, we need to build a clean energy economy, creating meaningful jobs for thousands of people including those working at the Shell Refinery.  Our society needs jobs that are not dependent on unstable, destructive resources that soar and crash, creating environmental and economic catastrophes,” says Cameron Stiff, a local sustainability organizer and activist.

As the bloc moved further east they crossed paths with an imposing concrete slab home to the Trailbreaker, set to send 40,000 barrels – of a daily 200,000 that will pass through the city – of dirty bitumen sludge for refining in Montreal.  The bikers set up a circular road blockade, as two climbers unfurled a 10 meter banner declaring “Changeons le System! Pas Le Climat!” (system change not climate change!) pointing to the Trailbreaker as the physical manifestation of the Tar Sands in Montreal.  A number of speakers pointed to the Tar Sands impacts on the Boreal forest, the Athabasca and Mackenzie watershed and the danger they pose for pushing Canada and the world towards a climate tipping point.  Special emphasis was given to the danger they pose for downstream communities, such as Fort Chipewyan,  who face poisoned water and toxic air each day.

“As we speak, Enbridge, one of the major tar sands pipeline companies, is pushing through a pumping station in the community of Dunham, QC,” said Kawina Robichaud, an organizer with Climate Justice Montreal, as she dangled above the crowd. “This project is going forward without a BAPE report, and without consultation of the local people, in order to facilitate the expansion of the Tar Sands, placing Quebec downstream of the destruction.”

The bloc stopped traffic in and out of the refinery sector, including numerous petroleum filled transport trucks to show Montrealers the link between the Tar Sands and the city they call home.

“The Athabasca Tar Sands are spreading across Canada and around the world,” Cameron Fenton    , also suspended above the crowd, stated.   “Pipelines are being built, expanded and reversed to send bitumen coast to coast across Canada, into the United States and around the globe.   The tar sands are the most expensive and resource intensive energy source on the planet, and we need to be transitioning out of them, not bringing Canada’s toxic Tar Sand nightmare into our own backyard.”

The bloc continued on to the gates of the Petro-Canada/Suncor East Montreal Refinery, scheduled to become the sight for Montreal’s own miniature tar sands upgrading facility for a short lunch break, and to talk about moving forward to shut down the Trailbreaker.

“Stopping this project is the first step for rolling back the largest, most destructive industrial project on the planet, the Athabasca Tar Sands,” said Julia Fishlock, student and organizer with Climate Justice.  “We are here to ride and stand in solidarity with every community effected by the Tar Sands, and all those set to be effective, this project steals water, turns out atmosphere into a dumping ground, and is killing people, it is time for Canada to get its head out of the Tar Sands.”

The bike bloc set off as a critical mass back towards downtown Montreal occupying three lanes of traffic, and shutting down the westward artery out of the petro wasteland.

The minor police presence ramped up as they drew nearer to the Olympic Stadium, stopped and harassed for failing to comply with police demands to keep to a single lane.  Ironically, the police managed to stop the bloc in front of of major branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, targeted in other Canadian cities as the number one financier of Tar Sands development.

As the sun came out overhead and the group, now complete with a three car police escort, made its way back to the center of Montreal, with a large contingent headed to join a massive protest against the privatization of essential services in Quebec.

by Cameron Fenton

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