The National Energy Board hearings in Montreal into the proposed $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline were cancelled early into the proceedings Monday after protesters stormed into the room, prompting the commissioners to leave and resulting in at least two arrests.


The ruckus began before Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre addressed the proceedings as the scheduled first speaker.

He cancelled his appearance, calling the proceedings a “circus.”

Coderre, who has been an outspoken critic of the proposed pipeline, said he may hold his presentation on Tuesday instead.

At the hearing, one man ran to the table where the commissioners were seated and almost knocked it over. NEB commissioners left the room and police entered soon after to remove the protesters.

Amid a heavy police presence, about 200 people gathered outside the Centre Mont-Royal, where the hearings are scheduled to be held, with many expressing support for the project and others opposing it.

A large contingent of Canadian Piping Trades Union Local 144 members showed up in support of the project, and chanted, “We want to work.”

But it was countered by a chorus of “we want to drink water,” by protesters concerned about the project’s potential impact on the environment.

Coderre was to appear at the hearings on behalf of the Montreal Metropolitan Community, just days after he called for their suspension after learning that NEB commissioners met with former Quebec premier Jean Charest while he was working for TransCanada.

The NEB apologized, saying it wasn’t aware that Charest was working with the company at the time.

The protests came as Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête revealed the proposed pipeline network for Energy East comprises more than 1,000 fittings possibly made of substandard material.

“It’s a matter of having answers,” Coderre said, referring to both the Charest affair and the Radio-Canada investigation.

“This is not a time to take chances. There’s too many problems.”

Coderre has repeatedly raised concerns about whether the potential environmental risks outweigh the pipeline’s possible economic benefits.

Three First Nations chiefs, among others, were also scheduled to address Monday’s proceedings.

The NEB is scheduled to hear from an array of speakers, in support of and opposed to the pipeline, as part of its process to decide whether to approve TransCanada’s bid to build the 4,500-kilometre pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta to Eastern Canada.

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The hearings, which began in New Brunswick earlier this month, are also scheduled for several other cities, including Quebec City, before concluding in Kingston, Ont., in December.

The board must submit its report by March 2018 after which the federal cabinet will have the final say on the project.

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