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BC delegation makes case for federal tanker ban

A delegation of B.C. First Nations, commercial fishers and environmental NGOs are in Ottawa today to argue their case for a ban on tanker traffic off the B.C. coast.

The delegation is demanding a ban on tankers in the Hecate Strait, between the Haida Gwaii islands and the mainland, and in Queen Charlotte Sound, north of Vancouver Island. Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, Jennifer Lash of the Living Oceans Society, and Arnie Nagy of the United Fisherman and Allied Workers’ Union are among the members of the delegation.

Sterritt and the Coastal First Nations, along with environmental groups like Living Oceans, the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics and West Coast Environmental Law have spent the last year ramping up a campaign against Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would bring an estimated 220 supertankers to and from the Kitimat port each year. Commercial fishing and wildlife groups have also joined the fight and this fall the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution in support of a tanker ban.

The federal Liberals and NDP have indicated they support a ban on tanker traffic, the Conservatives do not. A federal ban on tanker traffic in this region would effectively halt the Northern Gateway proposal, which is now under federal review by three-person federal panel. Proponents argue a ban would jeopardize Canada's position as a petro-state, and B.C.'s position as an economic gateway to Asia.

"You don't totally turn away from something that is first of all an economic opportunity for the people who live in the province and the people of Canada," B.C.'s Energy Minister Bill Bennett wrote in an email to The Tyee last month.

"As B.C. is Canada's gateway to the pacific, we have to accept that ultimately pipelines will be needed as energy demand continues to grow overseas."

However, allowing tanker traffic would jeopardize a landmark $120 million pact protecting the Great Bear Rainforest as well as 56,000 jobs and the culture of the Coastal First Nations peoples, says Sterritt.

Sterritt and the rest of the delegation are meeting with officials from the federal fisheries, transportation and environment ministries, as well as Conservative MPs.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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