The Peak (Simon Fraser University)
BURNABY — Speaking out against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, Mia Nissen, a student at Simon Fraser University underwent a week-long fast to protest the pipeline at the end of last year.
Nissen made the decision to go on a hunger strike over winter break as a way to take an immediate and noticeable stance on the issue. Between Dec. 25 and 31, 2013, Nissen subsisted only on Gatorade and multivitamins.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has been a hot button topic since it was announced in 2006. The line would carry distilled crude oil from Alberta’s oilsands to the coastal city of Kitimat, B.C.
Nissen began her strike in response to the approval of Enbridge’s latest project by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel on Dec. 19, 2013. The panel cited the project as being an important key in boosting the Canadian economy and the federal government has been given 180 days to decide the pipeline’s fate.
However, this decision has also been strongly contested by First Nations and environmental advocacy groups who worry about the catastrophic effects that a potential oil spill from the pipeline could have on the environment.
Adding her own voice to the fray, Nissen made a video of herself lip syncing to “Electric Avenue” during her hunger strike. The video was a means of voicing her opposition to the government’s use of crude oil by promoting an electricity-based society.
Nissen, who is finishing her liberal and business studies degree, said social justice was her inspiration to give up food for a week.
“I can’t just be a passive observer and watch companies like Enbridge continue committing their environmental crimes,” Nissen said. “It’s not just about this pipeline project; I am looking at the bigger picture. This is about the environment, about social justice.”
The activist has also organized other events in protest of building of the pipeline including a gathering in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery as an effort to get signatures in opposition to the project. She has also participated in several protest marches against Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Even though her efforts have gone mostly unnoticed by politicians thus far, Nissen is still hopeful for a sustainable environmental future by forgoing the use of oil entirely in favour of eco-friendly alternatives.
Nissen said there could be long term economic effects in the event of an oil spill; fishing and community interests could be wiped out and the government would have to spend millions of dollars to clean up a spill.
Despite Enbridge’s promises, Nissen, referencing the work of SFU researcher Tom Gunton, said there is simply no guarantee that would safeguard such a vast structure against a spill.
“The transportation of oil is not the issue, but rather the weaning of our society off of the oil addiction,” Nissen said.
As for what the strike taught her, Nissen said she has taken away more from the experience than just an empty stomach.
“I learned that there is fierce opposition to this project, and that I am not alone anymore. I’ve learned also that the spirit needs nourishment as much as the body. This is about humanity; we are fighting for the future.”
Photo: Mark-Burnham/The Peak