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Irving Refinery Blues

June 8, 2009

Irving Refinery Blues

Irving Refinery Blues

Please forgive me-- this may end up seeming like a rant in places, for I simply must get some things off my chest. I hope my prediction that it will make sense by the end is true.

I am a strong proponent of the idea that hitchhiking is simply one of the greatest forms of grassroots journalism. When you enter a new place, the odds are quite high that you are traveling with a local. If this is the case, then you will become immediately armed with “insider” information to which there is little match. The sorts of things I am often lucky to learn, in any case, would certainly not be told in any tourist information booth.

I woke up today in Riviere Du Loup, in Eastern Québec. I made a cold instant coffee and ate some granola bars before wandering across the highway to seek rides further East. I managed three rides fairly easily, each of them pleasant and warm, no hassles and even interesting tangents of separate activity here and there. But what I need to rant about was the ranting of my last ride of the day, a man named Doug who picked me up when I was but one ride from here-- Saint John, New Brunswick.

As if often the case, the introductory parts of the conversations-- perhaps half of the roughly one hour ride-- were banal, weather related, discussions of how long he lived here and where I was based. The usual. Then he started talking about the highway itself, and how it was being twinned. He told an entertaining story of a near-collision with 3 moose that he had experienced driving along this road. From there, he started pointing at the various areas that had already been cleared in order to twin the road. This followed on his frustrated expression of dismay at the size of the military base that hugs both sides of the highway 7, and seemed to be more or less par for his course.

Then a slight turn began innocently. I pointed to a house where the clearing for the to-be-constructed highway came up to about ten feet from the house, which already straddled the existing road on it's other side. I mentioned they must not be too happy about it. He responded:

“Yeah, I'll bet he's hanging on to the bitter end, trying to fight it. You know they can't win. It's really sad. It's like the Irving Refinery in town-- they were trying to expand and this one house wouldn't sell-- wouldn't give in to them. Eventually, when they died the Irvings took over anyway.” This comment certainly caught my attention. I had to ask.

“Do you know what killed the owners of the house?”
“Probably all the fumes and toxic stuff coming off the plant. You know, the exposure probably just did em in eventually”.

He continued on with the story, I was now somewhat transfixed. I learned about the recent construction of the Liquefied Natural Gas plant-- right on op of some of the most enjoyable and healthy beach front areas along Saint John where it meets the Atlantic. But he and I got back onto discussion of the house that stood in the way of the refinery. Doug continued: “There are a lot of mysterious diseases floating about in Saint John, what with all these different developments, but they are there-- that's for sure.”

My mind started to race into an angry snit as I quietly sat there by myself. I suppose I should mention that I had not yet eaten properly, but that only clarified certain aspects of the anger. I then thought of what was killing people in such a fashion as simple murder. I wondered to myself:

Imagine that someone close to you was shot through the heart. Then, while you are still grieving the person you believe was responsible for firing the bullet proclaimed innocence. As well, the persons who both allowed the murder and supplied the gun as well as the ammunition all declaimed any responsibility. Then, looking for a victims support group you found friendly people-- yet you also discovered that the people who ostensibly are this support group are all either funded by ammunition and gun suppliers to the one accused of murdering your loved one, or directly under their control and attending the same parties, art openings and fashion shows.

Would it not be utterly absurd to then be told you needed to sit at a table with representatives from these three groups, to determine what course should be taken about the murder? Would you sit at such a table, while the killer still holds a gun, ammo, permission to do more blasting-- and be told that of these four, a “negotiated solution” based on “collaboration” would be how you can attempt to seek justice? What's step one when you have an alleged killer? Take away their weapons, and prevent any further killing!

See, I am an anti-tar sands organizer. The story of what the owner of the last house near the Irving Refinery, a new story to me for sure, was one I have heard many another town, reserve or community tell. Sometimes, no matter how absurd something is-- the longer you stare at it, the less absurd it feels. It's always a great relief when the veneer of normalcy gets peeled away-- as it should.

Something just this absurd is playing a lot on my mind in the tar sands arena these days. While the community of Fort Chipewyan has lost far too many people to cancer in the last few years, the alleged culprits are now working in tandem with their enablers and even shadily funded “friends” to force a form of “stakeholder process” that recognizes the “equal claim” of the victim and the abuser; the oppressor and the oppressed. Further, the table is stacked-- at best-- 2-1 with one abstention. At worst, these “friends” are struggling to create this very table, to ignore the acts of violence against an entire people, to shake hands with the very people who have taken family members of the small community.

If I shake the hand of someone who wantonly killed someone close to me, I am dishonoring the dead. If I think that a “negotiated solution” with such an entity makes any sense, I spit on the memory of those I proclaim to love. And if I have a friend who tells me “Leave them their guns and ammo, but perhaps we can get them to agree that from now on they will only shoot in the arm or the leg” then I have no friend at all. No one negotiates the shooting of further innocents.

I for the life of me cannot fathom such utter, total disrespect for those who have died than to coddle their killers, and bestow respect upon them. It makes me ill to contemplate.

I arrived near Saint John and Doug looked out over the town. “There's the big city,” he proclaimed. The first thing I could see was literally the storage tanks for fuel near the Irving Refinery. He pointed to the other developments, and described where the LNG Port had wiped out prime community space not long ago. Then, another tour before he took me to the city campground. He drove through town in absolute rage—describing the dictatorship of the Irving family. They own no homes here, technically, they all belong to the corporation. Apparently, they all officially live in Bermuda. Because one doesn't pay taxes on church property, they still keep one old church in the family name. The church has to have one ceremony a year and it's technically a shelter.

He drove past the houses of the various members of that autocratic family. Judging by the size of their doorways, the Irvings must all be ten feet tall. "This one lives there, that one lives here," he said. His contempt was thick.

My campground is maybe a half kilometre from where the Irving mansions are located. I thought of the quote from Utah Philips “The earth is not dying, she is being killed. And the people killing her have names and addresses!” And thought about going out with pen and paper and recording some useful numbers and data, but instead settled for writing this down.

Doug let me out at the campground. His last words to me were “Here you are, your new home away from home.” I said thanks. Then he drove away and I thought for a second before registering to spend the night. I live in Northern Alberta. After everything he told me about this town and how it treats the weak for oil and gas, I did indeed feel like I was “home away from home.”

Thanks for indulging me that rant. I told you it would all make sense in the end-- my story that is. The insanity of the absurd we come to believe is normal-- hopefully-- will show how little it makes even the slightest sense, and very soon. Peoples lives are at stake. We must 'stop shaking hands'. It's time that they be held to account. It's how to honor the dead-- fight like Hell for the living.


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cold instant coffee?!

at least the coffee in Akwesasne is plentiful & lukewarm!

niawen for the rant.

& i'd love to read more of your reflections on the STATE-holder vs STEAK-holder vs STAKE-holder vs stakeholder process... it's a fascinating topic & plus, the wordplay possibilities are almost endless!

ps. the "captcha" words to make sure i'm something relatively humanoid = Oregon nonstop... ;)

when/how did the word "stakeholder" come about?

tried to research that once... if anyone knows the origin & history of the word "stakeholder" as its (ab)used today, i'd love to hear it!!!

[Harold chives]

I read your blog. The

I read your blog. The absurd doesn't make any sense to me.

Recently I attended an AGM of the Sarnia Lambton Environmental Association (SLEA). This is an organization of almost all refinery and chemical plants in the Sarnia area.

Their keynote speaker was there to set the record straight about the negative myths of tar sands development.

I was listening for any mention of Fort Chip. He didn't say anything about that. So at question time I mentioned about the health concerns of the people at Fort Chip. Did he have any comment?
Not anything worth noting but he did say that some pollution occurs naturally and that there were many abandoned uranium mines in the area.
After this he did say that the industries he represents provide a lot of employment and economic development to aboriginals in the area.

Good luck on your trip.

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