Three protesters, including two SFU students, were arrested during a sit-in of National Energy Board hearings for the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, on Jan. 22 in Burnaby. The protesters, SFU students Amy Widmer and Mia Nissen, as well as UBC student Destiny Sharp, were protesting the NEB approval process, among other issues.
These arrests follow the 100 that were made when protesters defied a court injunction to remove themselves from survey sites for the pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in November 2014.
The Peak sat down with Widmer and Sharp to talk about their experience when they tried to enter the hearing.
“Immediately, NEB employees stood up and put their hands on Mia, the third woman who was with us, and tried to physically move her,” Sharp said. Widmer added that RCMP and private security quickly formed a blockade to prevent them from moving forwards.
“After a while where they were asking us to leave, we just sat down [. . .] we were like ‘No, we’re not leaving, let’s make the point that we’re going to be here until you let us inside.’”
Security was tight but calm at the venue, with about two dozen police officers present on the sidelines and in the hotel. Widmer and Sharp had protested earlier that week by locking themselves the the National Energy Board offices, and Widmer said they saw a very different response.
“The two of us locked down to a building, to the front doors [. . .] there was no police response,” explained Widmer. “The police response was to come and say, ‘Hey you guys, you know you’re a fire hazard?’ And we said ‘yes’, and then they left us alone. Whereas when we tried to enter a public hearing we were arrested.” The three had charges of mischief laid against them, and have a court date scheduled for April 28.
The 10 days of hearings saw oral arguments from lawyers, Indigenous leaders, and environmental groups against the pipeline expansion. If the project goes through, it will cost $6.8 billion and enable the pipeline to transport 890,000 barrels of oil a day. The hearings were not open to the public, but the proceedings are available online.
Hundreds of pipeline protesters rallied outside the hearing room that Saturday. The rally included groups such as the Wilderness Committee, Dogwood Initiative, Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE), along with other community and environmental groups opposed to the pipeline.
This included the Simon Fraser Student Society and Graduate Student Society, whose members presented oral arguments to the NEB on Friday and Saturday.
SFU professor Lynne Quarmby spoke to the crowd, responding to recent news that there would be additional requirements for the Trans Mountain pipeline to be approved. She explained that problems remain in the NEB process, including the lack of oral cross examination and that the scientific evidence has not been not peer-reviewed.
“We need to pressure our new government that yes, we are happy that you’re paying attention [. . .] but it needs to be done right,” said Quarmby. “We have at least three newly elected Liberal MPs that campaigned very strongly on the promise that this sham would not be continued. Pamela Goldsmith Jones, Jonathan Wilkinson, and Terry Beech [. . .] need to be held to account.”
This Friday, some Burnaby residents and activists did just that, gathering at Terry Beech’s constituency office. They delivered letters, reports, and a petition with over 6,000 signatures to the Burnaby North-Seymour MP, and presented him with a framed picture of his previous promises regarding the pipeline.
Speaking to the next steps, Quarmby had some advice for those who want to get involved.
“The more you can engage people, the more they will feel empowered. Empower your friends, empower your neighbours,” she said. “We still got a long way to go on this project, and this project is not the only one. It’s together that we have power.”
Widmer spoke to the power of taking direct action during a protest, saying that being arrested as a part of a protest is “not as big of a deal as everyone tells us it is. It’s not going to ruin my future.”
Her hope is that her story “will get to students in a way that makes them know that they are capable of doing it too, and that it’s not going to fuck anything up for them. It’s going to be fine.”
City of Vancouver & BC join SFSS in objection to pipeline
Two weeks ago, the province of British Columbia joined the City of Burnaby, the City of Vancouver, and other organizations that have officially stated their opposition to the pipeline.
They cited the lack of “information around its proposed spill prevention and response for the province to determine if it would use a world-leading spills [prevention] regime.”
Safety concerns, especially regarding emergency protocols if a fire were to break out at the Burnaby Mountain tank farm, have been among the primary concerns for Simon Fraser University groups like the Simon Fraser Student Society.
SFSS VP External Relations Kathleen Yang explained that SFU has been unable to develop emergency response plans because Kinder Morgan “failed to provide them with adequate risk assessment and emergency preparedness information.”
She also brought attention to previous Burnaby Fire Department reports that suggest that there is a “lack of safe firefighting positions” at the tank farm. Said Yang, “it’s likely that they’re just going to have to leave the fire to burn itself out,” which could put SFU at risk and trap students on campus for days.
Yang explained “[the SFSS is] against this project, not for ideological reasons, but just for the fact that we want to ensure the safety and wellbeing of SFU students, today and in the future.”
While SFU is an official intervenor in the National Energy Board process, they chose not to present oral arguments to the board. Said SFU President Andrew Petter at a January 28 Board of Governor’s meeting, “Sometimes it is helpful to have oral submissions, sometimes less so.”
He added, “It should not be read as a signal of us being any less concerned or determined to ensure that the health and safety concerns that have been the focus of our intervention are going to be pursued.”
Not only is Kinder Morgan facing criticism, but the NEB itself came under fire when an audit by the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development found that “the Board did not adequately track company implementation of pipeline approval conditions, or consistently follow up on deficiencies in company compliance with regulatory requirements.”
The NEB responded to the audit with promises to address the recommendations made by 2016. Currently debate is ensuing not only over the Trans Mountain project but also the Energy East pipeline in Eastern Canada. The federal government has pledged to reform the pipeline review process.
Said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a speech in Montréal, “The responsibility of the federal government is to establish a clear process whereby people can evaluate the projects in a rigorous and open manner.”