Anyone who wants to watch the hearings into the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline when they come to Victoria in January will have to do it from far away.
Annie Roy, spokeswoman for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said last week that spectators will have to watch the proceedings by video in another hotel, when the hearings begin at the Delta Ocean Pointe. Members of the Joint Review Panel want to ensure speakers can be heard respectfully, without noisy demonstrations.
It’s easy to understand the panel’s concern. Members have the unenviable task of wading through months of testimony. More than 4,000 people applied to give oral evidence before the review panel, and Enbridge alone has filed more than 20,000 pages of documents.
Governments, First Nations, environmental groups and members of the public all want their perspectives heard. Giving everyone a fair hearing is a monumental job. Sifting through it all in search of a decision will be harder still.
Noisy demonstrations make it more difficult for the panel members, presenters and the public to concentrate on the facts and arguments. Early this month, Victorians trying to get into a public meeting on the Kinder Morgan pipeline complained they were blocked by protesters.
There is no excuse for denying others an opportunity to hear all sides of the debate and form their own opinions. The panel is right to promote an atmosphere where everyone can speak and hear.
At the same time, there has been no public indication that any group planned demonstrations in Victoria that would interfere with the hearings. Emma Gilchrist, spokeswoman for the Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group that opposes the project, said her group’s only demonstration was planned for Jan. 11 after the hearings concluded, and it would have been outside the Delta. The panel seems to be overreacting.
Review-panel members apparently even feared for their safety in April when they cancelled hearings, citing security concerns after they were met at the Bella Bella airport by chanting and singing protesters from local First Nations. Again, there was no apparent threat to the hearings themselves.
It is true that Victoria and Vancouver have seen large and vocal protests against the pipeline, but those were in public spaces like the legislature lawn.
Closing the hearings in the capital city and the province’s largest city, after those in other centres have been open, seems like too harsh a response.
Everyone who feels passionately about one side of the debate, and those who are still trying to make up their minds, should welcome a free flow of information. Shouting down those who oppose your views turns free speech into tyranny. But pre-emptively concluding that the residents of a particular city can’t be trusted to keep the peace is unjust.
In the absence of credible threats, anyone who is interested in this issue should be allowed to attend the hearings. The review panel must have more faith in the people of Victoria.
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