Enbridge Haircut Hoax an Inspired and Unusual Protest
Image by Jenny Lee Silver & Jeff Groat
Yes Men prank targets controversial oil pipeline giant Enbridge and its proposed Northern Gateway project
During the Wednesday lunch hour in Vancouver’s financial centre, local eco-activists offered free hair cuts to passersby. The goal: to collect enough hair to mop up future oil spills.
The haircuts were offered a day after the My Hair Cares proposal was released as part of a hoax that ensnared oil pipeline giant Enbridge in a public relations debacle.
Activist group PERM (People Enbridge Ruined in Michigan) claimed responsibility for the hoax, which was aimed to give the appearance that the Calgary-based company had adopted the human-hair-as-oil-absorbant-boom idea as official policy.
A fake press release under the Enbridge name stated that the hair booms were part of an elaborate mitigation strategy anticipating spills from tankers transporting oil from the terminus of its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in Kitimat:
“Absorbent booms made from human hair played a role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill clean-up,” said Brent Carlton, Sustainability Initiatives Director for Enbridge. “To prove we’re serious about the environment, Enbridge is using this lesson to prepare proactive, environment-friendly steps towards remediation of unlikely spill scenarios associated with Northern Gateway.”
Organizers of the event furthered the falsehood by inviting people to show up as fake PR people, reporters and business people.
Enbridge released a statement admonishing the prank, claiming it trivialized "last year’s tragic event in the Gulf of Mexico, where 11 people perished."
The protest was a project of the Yes Lab for Creative Activism, which itself is a product of culture-jamming activists the Yes Men, who have been responsible for several elaborate hoaxes in the past that targeted big corporations it felt were committing environmental offenses.
“It’s a series of workshops where they train local activists how to use these tactics for their own issues," said Sean Devlin, who is member of the Yes Lab and has been working with PERM in Canada.
Michigan oil spill offers poor track record for Enbridge
The alternative-style protest was held to draw attention to the group’s opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway project, which would link BC’s Pacific Coast with the Alberta tar sands via a pipeline terminating in Kitimat; from there, oil-laden tankers would have to navigate the tricky waters of the Inside Passage.
According to PERM, and a loud chorus of opponents to the pipeline, it would only be a matter of time before a spill occurred, devastating the communities, wildlife and ecosystem along the tanker routes.
The MyHairCares hoax was meant to highlight the fact that, based on its track record, Enbridge lacks any substantial plan for oil spill remediation. In the group's eyes, hair clippings are better than nothing.
“The idea with this whole hoax was to expose the truth, which is that collecting human hair would actually be an improvement,” Devlin said. “Because their real response to an oil spill is to confuse and manipulate people.”
According to Devlin, Enbridge’s actions following a spill in Michigan left victims tricked and undercompensated, while the spill itself was never properly cleaned.
“There are a number of reasons to oppose the Northern Gateway Project, but Enbridge’s response in Michigan is one of the strongest,” he said.
'My Hair Cares' a different kind of protest
Jonathan Bennett came to the protest from Victoria dressed as a reporter carrying a microphone wired into a book bag with a taped-on CBC Radio logo. Bennett is a fan of the Yes Men’s style of activism and wanted to be a part of the hoax.
“It’s a great gag, but the reality is it’s not good enough,” said Bennett.
Stephanie Goodwin, a local, came dressed in a power suit with a fake Enbridge nametag. She said that the Northern Gateway pipeline is a “step into the past” and represents the “largest blemish on Canada’s landscape.”
She said that it’s important for protestors to stand up and take leadership on issues like these when governments won’t.
Photos by Jeff Groat
The MyHairCares program was reported to be working with salons across North America to gather hair clippings before being revealed as a hoax.
The protest was held in the midst of lunch-hour bustle below the Enbridge Vancouver offices on Burrard Street.
Activists are concerned with Enbridge's record in dealing with previous spills from the company's pipelines.
On top of worries about spills, oil's status as dirty, expensive energy that contributes to climate change is cause enough for concern.
Stephanie Goodwin has lived in British Columbia for seven years and doesn't want to see the pristine coastline damaged by a spill.
In a professionally made promotional video for the MyHairCares hoax, clippings are shown to be a viable option for mopping up spilled crude.
Stephanie Goodwin sees getting her hair cut as taking a stand against two levels of government that aren't listening or addressing the concerns of environmentalists.
Jonathan Bennett (centre) followed the instructions he received via email from the Yes Men and dressed up as a reporter.
Sean Devlin worked with the organizers as part of the Yes Lab for Creative Activism. The Lab teaches Yes Men-style tactics to its members, like creating elaborate PR release schemes, posing as representatives of large companies and organizations and misinformation.
People wait to have their hair cut as part of the unique protest.
Those interested in communicating their views about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project may submit a letter to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel.