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Paul Simon lends classic song for use in anti-Northern Gateway Pipeline ad

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
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Opponents of Enbridge's Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline have received some heavyweight help in their campaign from famed singer-songwriter Paul Simon.

Simon gave permission for the use of his classic Simon and Garfunkel song The Sound of Silence on a video marking the 24th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, produced by Coastal First Nations (CFN), the Vancouver Sun reports.

As the iconic sixties folk-rock ballad plays, the video shows the effects of the massive March 24, 1989 spill on Alaska's pristine coast and warns the B.C. coast is equally vulnerable if a supertanker carrying oil sands bitumen from the proposed Kitimat export terminal ever comes to grief.

The two-minute video is the latest volley in an ongoing public relations battle between proponents of the multi-billion-dollar project oil sands export project and opponents, including environmentalists and B.C. First Nations.

[ Related: Northern Gateway pipeline may soon need extraordinary political measures to survive ]

CFN executive director Art Sterritt told the Sun he wrote a letter to Simon warning about the potentially devastating impact of a spill both on the coastal ecosystem and the economies and cultures of the people who live there.

"All of the social, environmental and economic impacts... are not something that Coast First Nations are about to allow happen to us," Sterritt told The Canadian Press. "We just couldn't survive that."

Simon agreed to let the song be used for a nominal fee, " about the price of a nice dinner out," spokesman Andrew Frank told the Sun.

The video was uploaded to YouTube and plans call for it to air on northern B.C. TV stations starting this week. The CFN is trying to raise funds to buy airtime on southern B.C. stations, the Sun reported.

The organization withdrew from the joint federal-provincial environmental review process for Northern Gateway.

Enbridge launched a broad public-relations push last year, including commercials touting the economic benefits of the project the pipeline and export terminal, and the safety precautions planned for tanker traffic. Northern Gateway manager Paul Stanway told CP the company has spent less than $5 million to promote the project.

[ Related: Enbridge under fire for animation erasing islands in Northern Gateway pipeline tanker route ]

Simon wrote The Sound of Silence in 1964 in the wake of President John F. Kennedy's assassination the year before, and the political ferment building in the United States around race relations and the Vietnam War.

It includes the lyrics:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools", said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

"Don't be silent," the CFN's video warns. "Vote for an oil-free coast."