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Three Protesters Are Facing Criminal Charges After Anti-Pipeline Sit-In in British Columbia

“Let us in! Let us in!” the women chanted as they were pinned against the wall and handcuffed outside the ballroom of a Burnaby hotel, where Canada’s National Energy Board is considering Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline proposal.

by Hilary Beaumont
Jan 24 2016, 6:30pm

Photo by Hilary Beaumont/VICE News

Burnaby RCMP are recommending charges of criminal mischief against three protesters who staged a sit-in on Saturday that drew attention to restricted public access to hearings for a controversial pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. RCMP spokesperson John Buis confirmed the charges to VICE News Monday.

Buis says the protesters are alleged to have caused mischief "by impeding people's progress through the security gate."

"Let us in! Let us in!" the women chanted as they were pinned against the wall and handcuffed outside the ballroom of a hotel where Canada's National Energy Board (NEB) is considering Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline proposal.

The hearings began on Tuesday, prompting protests throughout the week in the lead up to the largest rally on Saturday, in which 200 people gathered outside the hotel.

About 15 minutes after the sit-in began, an officer sat down on a chair next to the three women and asked them to take their protest to couches nearby, but they refused to budge. 

Police put up dividers, blocking access to the entrance where the women sat. A small crowd formed on the other side. Two hours into the sit-in, the crowd began chanting, "Let them in! Let them in!" followed by "No pipelines on stolen native land!"

Drumming and singing broke out. As the situation escalated, officers moved in and arrested the women sitting on the floor.

Kathleen Yang, a supporter of the protesters, said they were taken to Deer Lake Burnaby RCMP station. Another supporter, Dan Wallace, said all three were charged with mischief. 

Environmental groups and Burnaby residents have criticized the Liberal government for allowing the hearings to go ahead, with some believing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke his election promise to overhaul the NEB and redo the pipeline process.

As the hearings continue, the government insists it intends to fix the process.

Minister for Natural Resources Jim Carr said the government is drafting transition plans for "important natural resource projects," and more details on plans for Trans Mountain and TransCanada's Energy East pipeline will be provided in the coming weeks.

Related: Canada Extends Olive Branch to First Nations Amid Escalating Pipeline Tensions

When the Trans Mountain hearings resumed in the afternoon, the three activists sat down on the floor. Two officers stood at the entrance, blocking them from the event.

"If this is public, why aren't you letting people in?" Mia Nissen said as she sat on the carpet. "If they want to have these hearings, don't call them public if you don't let them in."

Inside the double ballroom where the NEB event was held, most of the seats were empty. A handful of press and members of the public listened as a lawyer for the Georgia Straight Alliance gave evidence that increased tanker traffic from the pipeline expansion would negatively affect killer whales.

Outside, Nissen held up a list of 400 people, including herself, who applied to become intervenors — people the NEB deems are directly affected by Trans Mountain — but were denied entry.

"All these people applied in good faith to come and participate and were sent a little, 'Sorry, denied,'" Nissen says.

She didn't recall receiving a detailed explanation for the rejection. When she applied, Nissen said she owned a home on Burnaby Mountain. The proposed Trans Mountain expansion route would run under the mountain.

In 2014, following tense protests and arrests on Burnaby Mountain, Nissen was one of five people Kinder Morgan sued for millions of dollars. The defendants, who were outspoken against Trans Mountain, called it a SLAPP suit designed to shut them up. The company later dropped the suit.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont

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