Situating Sarnia: 'Unimagined Communities' in the New National Energy Debate

Dayna Nadine Scott, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University


This paper argues that the active “unimagining” of downstream communities is crucial to maintaining a notion of unitary national ascent in the rhetoric surrounding the articulation of a new national energy strategy, specifically in relation to the pipeline debates that have gripped and divided Canadians. The exclusion of these unimagined communities downstream is demonstrated by situating Sarnia, Ontario - home to Canada’s biggest petro-chemical complex - both legally and spatially. Examining in detail the recent decision of the National Energy Board approving Enbridge’s application to reverse the flow of oil over a portion of its “Line 9” pipeline between Sarnia and Montreal reveals that the people of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, downstream of Sarnia’s refineries, need to be actively unimagined if the narrative of a “coast-to-coast” pipeline that will benefit everyone is to be maintained. Strategies for imaginative displacement are explored in the National Energy Board’s consideration of the Line 9 application, in relation to the claims of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, the renouncing of the Board’s process by Haudenosaunee activists, and in the campaign of prior rhetorical de-legitimation of opposition to pipelines carried out by the federal cabinet. The act of “situating” Sarnia - bringing into view the crucial spatial aspects of the legal and regulatory dynamic - demonstrates the distributional consequences of the pipeline decisions currently being contemplated. In paying attention to the everyday, chronic pollution that inevitably comes with the refining of dirty oil (completely separate from the greenhouse gas emissions tied to the extraction of tar sands crude), we can see that the costs and risks associated with these decisions are delivered as inequities to the communities at the ends of the pipelines.