Canadians have a really bad habit of patting ourselves on the back. We see violent clashes between citizens and the state, like what is continuing to unfold in Ferguson, and we tell ourselves that would never happen here in Canada.
While the dispute in Ferguson may be drawing our attention, here in British Columbia we are actually experiencing our own clash between citizens and the state.
On Burnaby Mountain, just a ferry ride away from me, nearly 80 people have been arrested (so far) while protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. Ecologist Alejandro Frid, PhD, and Lynne Quarmby, chair of SFU’s molecular biology and biochemistry department, are among those who chose to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
While the main focus of the protest has been to prevent Kinder Morgan from expanding their Trans Mountain pipeline, I want to focus on a few of the surrounding factors that have helped contribute to this stand off.
1. The Canadian Government Recently Stripped Down the Environmental Review Process
In 2012, the Harper Government passed Bill C-38. Hidden within this bill were major changes to Canada’s environmental assessment process. These changes “condensed project review timelines, seriously restricted public participation in the assessment process and limited what environmental concerns are deemed relevant to projects such as pipelines.”
For the Burnaby Mountain situation, these changes meant the review process was pushed forward while concerned locals were rejected from being involved in the review process. The National Energy Board also cut oral cross-examination from their review process, which led some frustrated residents to say that the review was no more than a “paperwork exercise”.
It’s hardly surprising that many locals felt that protesting Kinder Morgan’s work on the mountain was their only remaining option.
2. Kinder Morgan is Moving Ahead While the Municipal Government is Appealing the National Energy Board’s Decision
Burnaby, the community that would be most affected if something went wrong with the pipeline expansion project, has refused to give consent to the project. In fact, the municipal government is attempting to appeal the Energy Board’s decision. Meanwhile Kinder Morgan has continued to conduct survey work, which has included clearing trees and brush from conservation areas and drilling holes to take core samples.
When local citizens began to protest Kinder Morgan’s work, the company applied for, and was quickly granted, the injunction that has forced RCMP officers to remove protestors. While it was a relief to hear many protestors describe the RCMP officers who arrested them as “nice and civil”, it seems inevitable that this kind of situation would escalate, as the video below would imply.
Civil rights lawyer Gail Davidson has argued that it is “dangerously wrong” to arrest protesters while the courts are still evaluating the legality of Kinder Morgan’s actions.
3. Kinder Morgan Has a Spill History
In the past, Kinder Morgan has been accused of skimping on maintenance in order to “maximize distributable cash flow” and their Trans Mountain Pipeline has already had seven major spill incidents, two of which affected Burnaby directly. According to the Ministry of Environment’s report on the Barrett Highway Incident in 2007:
“Approximately 50 homes, property, and a section of the Barnett Highway were impacted when the 24 inch pipeline was ruptured, resulting in a 30 meter geyser of oil spraying into the air and covering the surrounding area with oil over approximately a 25 minute period. Subsequently the oil seeped into the surrounding soil, storm drains, sewer lines and along other down gradient pathways. The oil moving through the storm drain system eventually reached the marine waters of Burrard Inlet below the spill site where it began to spread further with wind and tides.”
While this particular incident was the result of an improperly marked pipeline, there have been other incidents where the pipeline itself has ruptured or storage tanks have leaked.
4. We Live in an Earthquake Zone
If you live in B.C. and have ever taken a Geography class you have probably heard about the West Coast’s precarious position.
Vancouver’s website even has a page that discusses the earthquake risks in the area: “The last earthquake in our area to register magnitude 9.0 or larger happened in 1700. It is just a matter of time until the next one occurs.” Given the geographical location of the pipeline, individuals like 74-year-old protestor Della Glendenning are asking how much damage the pipeline would do if it were ruptured in an earthquake.
5. The Canadian Government has a History of Ignoring First Nations Land Claims
British Columbia is almost entirely made up of unceded land.
This means that any time an industry wants to make a big decision that will directly affect the land, Nations from that area must be consulted before a decision can be made. More often than not, when the Canadian government thinks there may be a financial benefit in pushing through a project, it will find a way around the consultation requirement. This is a topic I’ve addressed before in my posts on Fracking protests and the Enbridge Pipeline.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion seems to be one more example where the company claims to have met consultation requirements, while a variety of First Nations leaders continue to speak out about it. As Sundance Chief of Tsleil-Wautuuth Nation Rueben George explains below, First Nations leaders are refusing to be bought out by a company that does not respect the land.
There are a variety of reasons why individuals went to the protest at Burnaby mountain, but most of the reasons I outlined above are linked to a sense of helplessness. Burnaby locals are afraid for their community, and many of them have been rejected or overlooked when they attempted to draw attention to their concerns through the governmental channels. Unfortunately, their attempt at protest may not only go overlooked, but may also have some extreme consequences now that Kinder Morgan has issued Burnaby residents a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.
For many of us who live in B.C., this feeling of helplessness extends beyond the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and many of the concerns I mentioned above have a much bigger impact than just this one case. But where do we turn when our federal government seems to care more about the freedom of foreign businesses than the concerns of local citizens?