For a Divided Community, the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Controversy Is Personal
Protesters and First Nations say they are set to “ramp it up,” increasing tensions.
A pipeline sign is pictured as indigenous leaders protest against Kinder Morgan Pipeline | Jason Redmond / Getty
In the middle of the afternoon I stop a man walking his dog. He is big and his dog is small. Both seem agitated. His name is Steve Bull.
“I live here, right down there—” He points down a street lined with trees blooming in pink and white flowers, a short walk from Kinder Morgan’s marine terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia. “And (these protests are) too often. Too goddamn often. The sooner these protesters get out of the neighbourhood the better.”
“The oil company has been a great neighbour,” he adds. “All these people are hypocrites—they all drove here. If they wanted to do something differently, stop driving cars—ride a damn horse.”
“That's not true—that's not right,” says another man, this one tall and thin. He says his name is Richard Moran. He also lives in the neighbourhood and is also walking a dog, a large red one trotting along behind him off-leash.
“There are so many inaccuracies in the facts Kinder Morgan presents about this pipeline,” he says.
People—mostly protesters—gather around the two men as they argue, calling either for calm or supportive words for Moran.
“I wish (the protests) happened more often,” Moran says. “I fully support the pipeline protesters.”
“I am totally against them going into the neighbourhood. They've been building down there without Kinder Morgan's permission, which is illegal,” says Bull. “If they're going to protest, they should do it legally.”
The argument becomes heated, and boils over with Bull storming away. Moran stands beneath the branches of a cedar tree, looking puzzled and shaking his head. He calls for his dog before he, too, departs.
Proponents of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline tout its economic value and the jobs it will create. The official Trans Mountain Pipeline website lists its estimated value to the Canadian economy at $7.4 billion in “project spending” with another $73.5 billion in increased revenue for producers and $46.7 billion in taxes and royalties for Canadian federal and provincial governments over 20 years.
Opponents of the project decry the potential environmental impacts, including the increased danger of spills which might come with the increased tanker traffic the pipeline would bring, as well as the pollution associated with tar sands production. Moreover, the lack of Indigenous consent to the project, which would occupy and use—and, many say, threaten—the traditional lands of multiple First Nations has brought Native land rights to the forefront of the discussion.
It might be said that this argument between these two men—men who are neighbours, who share not only a postal code but drink the same water and get caught in the same rainstorms, men who walk their dogs on the same streets and smile at the same neighbours on their way to work and shop at the same grocery stores—is a microcosm in the macrocosm which is the conflict between First Nations and environmentalists and Kinder Morgan and its pipeline supporters:
Two side with utterly incompatible views, locked in hot combat in which there is little room for compromise and much to lose.
This weekend marked the latest seven of nearly 200 arrests at Kinder Morgan’s marine terminal in Burnaby, as faith leaders of all denominations became the latest group to block the Texas-based oil company’s gates.
A few days after a hallmark Indigenous protest blocked those gates on April 7, the oil giant upped the ante, setting a May 31 deadline to sort out whether or not its Trans Mountain pipeline can actually be built. All told, some 177 protesters were served with notices to appear in court.
Twenty-eight of those protesters appeared Monday, April 16, on charges of criminal contempt, with another 100 some people appearing on April 18, says Kris Hermes. Hermes is a member of the Terminal City Legal Collective, a group which helps social and environmental justice movements by providing legal training and working with lawyers to provide council when needed.
The way in which Kinder Morgan has enforced these charges is troubling, says Hermes, which many “did not expect Kinder Morgan to follow up on at all.” When those arrested were originally served with notices to appear in court, Hermes says they were initially given mid-June appearance dates. Kinder Morgan did not feel this was quick enough for their liking, he says, and asked that the dates be bumped forward for quicker processing. This means that some people may not have time to properly form a defence or acquire a lawyer, which may affect their ability to defend themselves in court, he says.
“(The accused) should be allowed to fight the charges and I think that's the assumption in the courtroom,” says Hermes. “Today was a good example of the judge trying to ram people through this legal process without consideration of whether or not they are adequately prepared.”
“This is a clear intimidation tactic.”
Hermes also points out that some people, especially those with limited financial means, may not be able to afford a lawyer. Although some people in this position have applied for legal aid, that system has a “high threshold to access” which means that many protesters “may be left to fend for themselves.”
Exactly what the consequences for the accused might be if they are convicted is uncertain, but similar cases have lead to fines of “hundreds or thousands of dollars” and jail time, he says.
That the defendants were served and brought into court so quickly is unusual, says Hermes, noting that the usual time from for this sort of thing is around two months. The “cynical nature” of these proceedings “was not lost” on those called before the courts, many of whom public ally questioned the court about the need—and the reasoning—behind this accelerated pace.
“There was a strong showing of resistance,” says Hermes. “People essentially yelled out 'why?' and demanded the court respond.”
“This is an illustration of what's to come and that these trials will happen but they are not going to happen easily.”
Pia Massie, a documentary filmmaker and Scholar in Residence at Emily Carr University was arrested April 12 as part of an artist-lead protest at Burnaby Mountain meant to demonstrate disapproval of the pipeline and their support for First Nations, she says.
Massie says Kinder Morgan's ultimatum is basically Kinder Morgan trying to “bully” the government into getting its way.
“Why should a Texas-based oil company be bullying the Canadian government ... and forcing the project which (the people) have said they don't want anything to do with?” she says.
“It's so clear that the pipeline can't go through,” she says.
“We all live in our separate bubbles, in our Facebook information cycles... it's hard to know the ripple effects of one's own actions... there's a lot of people who see this fight in Vancouver as the cutting edge, as a paradigm shift in environmental and social change,” she says.
Massie describes the arrest process, at least in her case, as “incredibly gentle,” and “almost like a ritual” with “people singing and chanting and supporting you.”
“Even the guys who have to arrest us don't want to be there.”
Massie appeared in court April 19 to answer her charges.
Will George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation is a large man with a kind face and a determined but strangely gentle way of walking. When he speaks, he is both reassuring and intimidating. George, along with other members of his family, has been spearheading the resistance at Burnaby Mountain, including erecting a Watch House. This traditional cedar longhouse represents both a literal and spiritual watching over of the land. This is the building Bull was referring to when he said the protesters were erecting structures illegally, to which he was opposed.
The Watch House—and all of Burnaby Mountain, including the Kinder Morgan facility itself—is situated on unceded Coast Salish territory.
The original pipeline, which Kinder Morgan wants to twin, was built through Indigenous land without the consent of First Nations living there, says George, something he calls completely unacceptable in the first place.
“We're doing and have always been doing these protests in a peaceful way,” says George.
“I like to keep this as simple as possible. Once Trudeau got elected, we saw where the power really was. I find it very offensive, his not bringing us to the table for this... By not bringing us to the table and no negotiating with us it shows they are scared of our culture.”
“We need to show (the government) that this is a poor investment. They can't be spending time and money on this when there isn't even clean drinking water in some communities (in Canada).”
In the face of this new ultimatum, George says there is really only one option for protesters: hold their ground and turn up the heat on their protests.
“We're going to ramp it up,” he says.”That’s what we’re going to do—ramp it up.”
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