A week of Joint Review Panel hearings on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline begin in Prince George today.
The hearings on the controversial proposal will almost certainly draw crowds of protesters opposing the project.
It is one of the fundamental rights of any democratic society to gather peacefully to express political views without fear of persecution. In Canada that right is enshrined in law in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The people who will be outside the hearings banging drums, singing, chanting anti-Enbridge slogans and waving placards will be taking part in the great democratic process.
Whether you agree with them or not, they deserve a pat on the back for being engaged in their community and the world around them.
If only they had a clue what they were protesting about.
The sad reality is the majority of people who will be out protesting are doing so based on a mishmash of oversimplifications, half-truths, gut feelings, misinformation and ideology.
How many people have actually read the massive, multi-volume submission by Enbridge to the panel? Most Enbridge employees who helped write the report probably haven't read the whole thing - it's both mind-numbingly boring and mind-bogglingly technical.
Every stream crossing, every pump station, every section of grade is explained in complex, lugubrious detail.
Even here in the Prince George Citizen newsroom, which is full of people paid to be well-informed, you won't find anyone who has done more than skimmed through it.
The reason for that is, for a lay person, there is very little point in reading endless technical jargon which is beyond their understanding. Only a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci - engineer, geologist, ecologist, biologist, environmental lawyer, meteorologist, oceanographer, etc. - could possibly understand all of it fully.
That being said, there are individuals and organizations who have serious, well-reasoned and valid concerns about the project.
If you see Sonja Ostertag or Josh DeLeenheer, or anyone else from the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, outside the Enbridge hearings, stop and chat with them. They aren't raving fanatics who oppose any and all development.
They are smart, thoughtful people who want the North to be a prosperous, healthy place for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live, work and play. And they deserve credit for stepping up to do something they think is important to protect that vision.
Or you could talk to Chief Terry Teegee from the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. Ask him about the concerns his constituents have about the unresolved land claim and treaty issues this project raises.
Teegee is not a First Nations ultra-nationalist or extremist, he is just standing up for the people he represents - people who have historically gotten a raw deal from corporations and government. And isn't standing up for their constituents exactly what elected officials are supposed to do?
It's unfortunate that many of the people who will be standing next to Teegee, Ostertag and De DeLeenheer will be mindlessly repeating slogans without really understanding why.
Most will be there primarily to hear themselves shout and to reaffirm what they believe with other like-minded people: protesting to the choir.
However, there is a group of people who will read Enbridge's encyclopedic submission cover to cover -probably many times. They are the members of the Joint Review Panel.
With the help of a team of impartial government experts, they will check and double-check Enbridge's facts, plans and assertions. They are not taking the company's word for things, knowing fully that Enbridge has a strong financial incentive to make the project appear viable.
The panel's final report and recommendations will be the result of years of research, fact-checking and public consultation. Nobody, not even Enbridge, will know more about the project and the terrain it will cross by the time the panel finishes its work.
While this week most of the action will be taking place outside the Enbridge hearings, the stuff that really matters - the dull, quiet, important work - will be taking place inside.
-- Associate news editor Arthur Williams