Correction: A previous version of this article included an allegation that Chief Ernie Crey had personally received funds directly from Kinder Morgan in connection with Cheam First Nation signing an agreement with Kinder Morgan. We have investigated the allegation further and we are satisfied it is unfounded. We regret having published the allegation. The story has also been updated to clarify Crey's statement on climate change.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's meeting on Tuesday with a pro-pipeline chief in British Columbia was disrupted by protesters, who shouted at their own chief for supporting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Chief Ernie Crey, one of the project’s most vocal cheerleaders, recently said he would consider buying a stake in the pipeline, but the protesters say the chief didn’t adequately consult them, and the Trudeau government is forcing the pipeline through their territory.
“No means no!” they yelled, amid heavy drumming.
“Liar liar, pants on fire!” someone yelled, referring to Trudeau’s reconciliation promises to First Nations.
Shortly after Trudeau arrived in Cheam First Nation, on the route of the Trans Mountain pipeline near Chilliwack, community members were shut out of the band office while Trudeau met with the chief, elder Denise Iyeselwep Douglas told VICE News over the phone.
“When he comes out, they’re going to treat him like a rapist, Justin Trudeau,” Douglas said. “They’re going to tell him he’s raping our land, and they’re going to tell him ‘no means no.’”
She said the meeting was kept “secret” and the elders were not informed that the Prime Minister was coming, something she said is “basic” decorum in their community.
Douglas accused Crey of not properly consulting with his community before signing a mutual benefit agreement with Kinder Morgan on behalf of Cheam. She insists there is fierce resistance in Cheam to the expansion project, which would see the existing Trans Mountain pipeline expanded to carry triple the amount of oil from Alberta to the BC coast.
While Trudeau has approved the pipeline, saying its economic benefits can be balanced by his government’s plan to combat climate change, Crey recently told VICE News he believes “the jury is still out” on the extent to which climate change is human-caused.
Trudeau announced last week his government would buy the pipeline for $4.5 billion to ensure it is built, saying it will bring jobs and access to more lucrative markets for Canada’s oil. The Prime Minister has pointed to more than 40 First Nations along the pipeline route who have signed mutual benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan as evidence of Indigenous support for the project.
But Douglas says it is no such thing. “He does not have a mandate [to sign a benefit agreement],” she said of Crey. “He did not hold a referendum.”
In exchange for a commitment to "not oppose" the pipeline, the band received a $1-million "signing bonus" from Kinder Morgan. The agreement also comes with job training and procurement opportunities.
Crey told VICE News he signed the deal with Kinder Morgan, but was not involved in negotiations. "[The money] doesn't pass through my hands," he said.
While other First Nations have held referendums on whether to sign benefit agreements, Crey chose not to, saying the chief and council are elected to make decisions and pursue economic opportunities.
“We said, we will make agreements, but we won’t interfere with your right to have your say,” he told VICE News over the phone in April. “Some people seem to forget that when they elect a chief and council, they elect them to govern.”
Chief ‘not convinced’ of extent of human-caused climate change
Crey has emerged as one of the pipeline’s biggest cheerleaders, and has said he is willing to invest in the expansion project. While VICE News filmed a forthcoming documentary about the pipeline in BC recently, Crey told us he believes “the jury is still out” on the extent to which climate change is caused by humans, something he had not previously said publicly.
When asked whether he believes climate change is caused by humans, he said, “I think there’s a contribution but I don’t think that anyone to everyone’s satisfaction has sort of quantified that and can speak with absolute authority.”
“I think the jury is still out, in spite of our use of fossil fuels and the like,” he said. “I think a lot of people hang things on that and sort of scare themselves, you know, as though they were reading revelations in the Bible that colossal things are about to happen, there’ll be massive loss of human life and wildlife, disappearance of flora and fauna, it’s the end, it’s the end! And I don’t agree with that. Sorry, I just don’t agree with that.”
“I’m not a scientist, I don’t know for sure,” he added, “but I’m not convinced the jury is really in on the role of, the contribution of human settlements to climate change. I don’t think the jury is in, finally.”
His statements are in stark contrast to Trudeau’s acknowledgement that climate change is real and human-caused, but that the environment can be balanced with the economy.
“One of the things we’ve seen time and time again through the polarization of politics is people forcing a choice, it’s either the environment or the economy,” Trudeau said in an interview last week with Bloomberg. “Certainly if you talk to Canadians, you hear clearly that people understand that creating a strong growing economy for the long term also requires protecting the environment. In order to protect our environment, we do need to have a strong and growing economy.”
Cover Photo: VICE News