eng bay spil

Crews responding to the bunker fuel leak on April 9th 2015 (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press)

Last Friday, marked the one year anniversary of the MV Marathassa oil spill on Vancouver’s coast. 2,700 thousand litres of bunker fuel pooled in the waters of English Bay, contaminating the marine environment. Toxic sludge collected even on beaches located dozens of kilometers away from the site of the incident.


Oil sludge found on the beaches of Vancouver (Vancouver Aquarium)

However, most appalling of all was the completely inadequate response to the event. It wasn’t until three hours after the spill was reported that a cleanup crew was activated. A review later confirmed that miscommunications and uncertainty about roles prevented timely efforts to contain the spill and clean it up. Even now, a year later, there is still no regional response plan in place to respond to an oil spill on the Salish Coast — there is however, an event stronger people’s movement opposing the fossil fuel economy on the BC coast.

The Marathassa oil spill has heightened concerns about the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion which would massively increase tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet.

“We cannot tolerate an increased risk of oil spills in the Burrard Inlet,” the Tsleil-Waututh Nation asserted in a statement released shortly after the Marathassa spill. “We must use this incident as a catalyst to develop a path forward that adequately protects and restores clean water and abundant, wild marine foods that are safe to eat in Burrard Inlet.”

Indeed, the resolve to curtail the growth of a hydrocarbon economy on the coast of British Columbia has only grown stronger in the last year. Led by the Tsleil-Waututh, dozens of people took part in the Kinder Morgan hearings, and hundreds more rallied outside, to oppose the expansion of the tar sands pipeline expansion project. In addition, many other communities have been standing in opposition to the expansion of export terminals for fracked natural gas and coal on Vancouver’s harbour.


Demonstration outside National Energy Board hearings for Kinder Morgan pipeline, January 2016 (Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey)

This strong people’s movement is dedicated to protecting the Coast Salish Coast but it’s also crucial to protecting the climate.

Already in 2016, the severity of climate change has come at the cost of human lives in the global south. In Pakistan, water reserves are running so low enough that hundreds of impoverished people have been denied access to drinking water in the country’s largest city.  In the Philippines, thousands of farmers demonstrating to demand food in the midst of a harsh drought were met with bullets from militarized forces.

And as climate catastrophe unfurls in the rest of the world, the Canadian Prime Minister has reportedly been instructing his cabinet to make fossil fuel infrastructure a top priority. That’s why, in exactly one month, as the National Energy Board finally makes its recommendation on the approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, thousands of people will take to the water and the land to block the infrastructure for this project. We’ll stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, such as the Tsleil-Waututh Nation who have said these projects simply can not be built. We’ll put our bodies on the line to make it perfectly clear that we’re ready to break free from the disastrous impacts of a fossil fuel economy and build a justice-based economy that works for people and the planet.


The Break Free arts team has been busy making gorgeous chalk murals all across Vancouver!


— Blog post by Atiya Jaffar