Local activist Dianne Varga seems to know why the federal government has changed the format for its Northern Gateway pipeline hearings in Kelowna on Monday.
"They say it's because of 'safety concerns,'" said Varga, who was originally part of a committee putting together a rally at the Sandman Hotel, where the hearings will be held.
"But we were going to peacefully protest," Varga said, adding that protesters were willing to co-operate so hotel operations and the hearings could carry on.
Varga said there's still likely to be a pipeline protest near the hotel Monday, but that it's no reason for the federal review panel to turn a "public hearing into a private hearing."
The safety concerns have prompted the panel to present what it calls a split hearing.
That means access to the main room where the panel is meeting at Kelowna's Sandman Hotel will be restricted to pre-registered presenters making oral statements, one guest per presenter and media.
Presenters will be heard in two sessions, starting at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
A yet-to-be-announced secure second location will be provided for others to hear a live audio broadcast of the hearing.
A live audio broadcast can also be heard on the panel's website, GatewayPanel.Review.gc.ca. As well, transcripts from the hearings will be posted later to the website.
The first 14 stops for the hearings went ahead as usual, with presenters, spectators and media all allowed into the main room with the panel.
However, Victoria and Vancouver had split hearings earlier this month because of concerns similar to those that prompted the split format for Kelowna.
When the last of the hearings are held in Vancouver Wednesday through Friday next week, they will also be split.
"We had the courtesy of contacting the general manager of the Sandman Hotel (Kelly Watt) to see where we could rally and hang up a banner or two and not interfere with hotel operations," said Varga.
"The general manager said she didn't want us there because it's private property, but she did say she'd consult with the hotel's lawyer. We never heard back from her. I guess she told the review panel, and now it's changed the hearings for these perceived safety reasons."
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which is organizing the hearings, isn't elaborating.
"Unfortunately, I can't say exactly what the concerns are or how they came to light," Annie Roy, agency manager of communications, told The Okanagan Saturday from her Ottawa office on Friday afternoon. "But the panel has asked for a split hearing, and security consultants and the local RCMP have been notified."
The federal review panel is criss-crossing the country to hear presentations about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project and its environmental effects.
If approved, the almost 1200-kilometre-long twin pipeline would carry about 525,000 barrels of petroleum per day from Alberta to the B.C. coast for shipment by tankers.
The project has been divisive both politically and publicly, with some opposing it because of potential harm to the environment and others touting it as an economic necessity to get Canada's resources to market.
Before the official hearing Monday in Kelowna, the local chapter of the Council of Canadians plans a "people's summit" on the Northern Gateway project. It's 7-9 p.m. tonight at the First United Church Hall at the corner of Bernard Avenue and Richter Street.
Guest speakers include federal Green Leader Elizabeth May, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, environmental filmmaker and journalist Damien Gillis, and NDP MLA Rob Fleming, the B.C. Opposition environment critic.
"The people's summit should be attended by anyone who is concerned about our rivers, our coast and our environmental decision-making process," said co-organizer Carol Kergan.
"People care about decisions which can impact life as we understand it for all generations. These are not decisions to make for economic reasons alone. We have to think of true sustainability for our province. Short-sighted and fast decisions undermine that process."