BURNABY – An area on Burnaby Mountain is being occupied by Onkwehon:we people, residents of Burnaby and the lower mainland, and other allies in response to the pipeline expansion project proposed by Kinder Morgan, the third largest energy company in North America. KM began surveying earlier in the week to prepare for geological testing. The company intends to construct a tunnel through the west side of Burnaby Mountain, as well as setting up a helicopter landing pad atop the mountain.
The city of Burnaby opposes the pipeline project for many reasons; the intrusivity of tunnelling through a mountain, little to no short or long term economic benefits and the irreversible effects a pipeline spill would have on the environment and health of all living creatures in the area.
Caretakers of the land have been occupying the space since September to ensure KM’s employees did not begin any kind of work. Allyship between settlers and the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam First Nations began building as KM’s threat to the land intensified. The area has since been occupied 24 hours a day by Onkwehon:we and non-Onkwehon:we people seeking to stop construction. Most recently, Coast Salish elders set up a sacred fire to support the actions in defense of the land.
On Monday, November 17, some 800 people gathered to defy a 4 p.m. injunction which ordered protesters to disburse. Police backed down and people remained. The next day, the RCMP raided an area where the sacred fire was lit and many protesters were gathered. 20 people were arrested, including older Onkwehonk:we women. While four remain in custody, the other 16 were eventually released. On Friday and Saturday there were an estimated 20 people arrested daily, and a total of 100 protesters on scene. Currently, the plan of action is to remain on site, despite the high chance/threat of arrest. It is expected some 20 protesters may be arrested daily, but regardless others will continue to watch over the area. People from different age groups and nations have been removed by RCMP, from young students to members of the David Suzuki’s family and foundation.
As happens to be the case in many disputes, back and forth federal and municipal legal battles ensued before the injunction was issued. The city of Burnaby initially rejected Kinder Morgan’s request for a work permit. KM then contacted the National Energy Board (NEB), arguing that they have a corporate right to access the city of Burnaby public lands. According to federal legislation, the NEB concluded that KM has a right to occupy, conduct surveys and perform tests on Crown and private lands that lie in the proposed pipeline route.
In response to the NEB’s ruling, the city of Burnaby filed a constitutional challenge because the intended route would violate city bylaws. The NEB did not deny or assert the challenge, but only presented an interpretation of the NEB Act’s section 73a. The city of Burnaby is maintaining the primacy of their bylaws and is still trying to keep KM out of the parkland and Brunette Conservation Area. Media liaison Karl Perrin had this to say: “The strength is building, we are getting support from the BC coast, and even some from the Gulf Islands.”
A call out for support has been ringing for the last three weeks. With intimidation tactics such as recent arrests and workers surveying during late hours via flood lights, it is clear KM intends to demonstrate its power. This leaves uneasy feelings around federal powers being able to demolish municipal legislation that directly reflects the input of citizens. Leaving questions around the truth in Canada’s democracy and who the RCMP are really working for – the citizens that ultimately finance their paychecks, or big oil companies like Kinder Morgan.