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Indigenous-led protests will stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion

Graeme Cheadle, Parry Mudhar, and Ryan Schebek

March 31, 2018

Nearly 200 people have been arrested for blocking the entrance of the Kinder Morgan facility in Burnaby, in some cases even chaining themselves to trees, gates, and earth-moving equipment in an effort to slow the company’s attempt to clear forest in preparation for construction on the new project.

As Tsleil-Waututh activist Will George put it, “We have reached a critical point in the fight against Kinder Morgan and [its] destructive expansion project.”
One focal point for these protests was the building of a traditional Watch House in Burnaby’s Forest Grove Park. This Watch House, built by Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) members, currently serves as a rally point for protesters heading up to Kinder Morgan property. The watch house was opened with a rally and march involving 10,000 people in Burnaby. This sent a loud message to Kinder Morgan and its allies in the federal government that Indigenous rights would be respected and the natural environment and climate protected. “Based on the undeniable jeopardy we would be placing our inlet, the people and creatures of the inlet, the surrounding communities in, as well as, in fact, the global community, TWN has denied its free, prior and informed consent,” said Chief Maureen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh Nation. 

In solidarity, communites across the country delivered water from the west coast to Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers. Those arrested in Burnaby include a former TransMountain environmental engineer who warned about the impossibility of cleaning up an inevitable spill and a 76-year-old retired teacher who had “rarely had a parking ticket in [her] life” previously. Even NDP MP Kennedy Stewart and federal Green party leader Elizabeth May showed up to get arrested. Each day of delay costs the company an estimated $3 million in additional expenses; furthermore, it is under pressure to complete the clearance work by March 26, when migratory nesting birds are expected back in the area, after which it will be forced to wait until August or September to continue. This extra delay is expected to cost it an additional $536 million.

Recently Kinder Morgan has lost a case with the Supreme Court of BC to extend the exclusion zone to include where the Watch House was built. Instead Justice Kenneth Affleck has decided to allow an exclusion zone of only five meters from Kinder Morgan property in an act of sympathy with what the Watch House project stands for. Challenges in the courts are also ongoing. Tsleil-Waututh and six other First Nations, two cites and several other organizations are challenging the National Energy board decision to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The Federal Court of Appeal has consolidated all of these cases into one. Indigenous nations are hoping that the courts will recognize their right to defend their lands from oil spills and further climate change. The hearings started in October of 2017 and have not yet reached a decision. In another court case the city of Burnaby has lost its bid to use bylaws around tree cutting bylaw and zoning to halt of construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

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