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Sarah Harmer on pipelines: ‘It’s the wrong idea to ship this stuff through heavily populated areas’

Singer songwriter Sarah Harmer, right, fist-bumps Chris Page of the Centre for Environmental Health following a news conference in Vancouver, Oct. 16, 2012. Page and Harmer are a part of a Nobel Women's Initiative Delegation to Alberta and British Columbia to bring attention to the Alberta oilsands and the construction of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

On Sunday, the celebrated singer-songwriter and activist Sarah Harmer takes part in a concert to raise awareness about a plan by Enbridge, Inc. to carry heavy crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries in Quebec. A stretch of the pipeline – Line 9B – has carried conventional oil beneath Toronto for nearly four decades, but the operator's new scheme, which involves a flow reversal, an increased capacity and the pumping of heavier oil, has raised concerns from city officials.

Sunday afternoon's Rock the Line concert at Mel Lastman Square also features Gord Downie, the Sadies, Hayden and Minotaurs. We spoke to Ms. Harmer about the issue at hand.

The Rock the Line concert is hosted by Environmental Defence and yourself. Is it your position that extra precautions or a retrofitting of the pipeline should be undertaken, or is your hope that the National Energy Board turns down Enbridge's proposal completely?
It's the wrong idea to ship this stuff through heavily populated areas, and, in general, to ship this stuff out of the oil sands anywhere. It needs to stay in the ground. That's the big picture. Specifically with Line 9, this pipe raises tons of red flags, just with all the technical problems brought to our attention by pipeline experts. The likelihood of rupture is too great.

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Where you surprised at the backlash received by Neil Young when he spoke against the Keystone XL pipeline and described Alberta's Fort McMurray as a wasteland?
No one likes their hometown to have a black mark. But I've been to Fort McMurray, and the tar sands are hard on your lungs. I had a hard time breathing up there. It's thick in the air. The town itself isn't a war zone, but it's dusty. It's a heavy, heavy resource extraction zone and it's contaminating the air and the Athabasca River and polluting a lot of people's health up there.

Now, the concert will feature not just talk but stellar musicians as well, including yourself. We've been waiting, patiently, for new Sarah Harmer material. Will we hear any on Sunday?
Well, I wasn't planning to play anything new because I thought people would want to hear something they're familiar with. We're going to be doing mini-sets of five or six songs each. I do have some new material in the works, but I'm not sure I'm going to play any of it. I do appreciate you asking, though.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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