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Why I Risked Arrest to Resist the Kinder Morgan Pipeline

By Meeka Marsolais

On Oct. 28, 2017 I was arrested for criminal mischief, an offence against Kinder Morgan property. Alongside four other “kayaktivists” I took a stand against this company and their harmful pipeline when we refused to paddle away from their barge and its surrounding waters. Instead, we paddled to within arm’s length of the vessel and tied our kayaks to it with rope. 

Credit: Zack Embree & 350.org

Kayaktivists in front of a Kinder Morgan barge Photo: Zack Embree & 350.org

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline System is a pipeline that already carries crude and refined oil from Alberta to the west coast of British Columbia. Kinder Morgan has been increasingly using the current pipeline to transport diluted bitumen from the tar sands, which is more corrosive than regular oil. A key priority of the proposed expansion will be to transport this diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to tidewater on the BC coast.

Kinder Morgan is proposing to expand the pipeline by twinning the existing Trans Mountain pipeline. This would increase the amount of oil being transported from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day. It would involve a new pipeline running underneath communities from Edmonton to Burnaby and increased tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea.

The Wilderness Committee says this would turn Burrard Inlet into a major tar sands oil export facility. Diluted bitumen is especially harmful as it is heavier than crude oil, thus even harder to clean up. (Crude oil is already near impossible to clean up as it does not easily float.) Since bitumen is so thick, it can only travel through the pipeline with aid from other chemicals, including benzene, a known carcinogen.

I never like to deal in hypotheticals and would like to strongly emphasize that it is not a question of “whether” there will be an oil spill, but  “when.” This is above and beyond the hundreds of barrels per year that will enter the water as “waste oil” resulting from routine operational use and maintenance of ships, not recorded as spills.

I am fiercely opposed to this pipeline because of the harm it would inflict on the orca population. I moved out to British Columbia within the last few years to be closer to the ocean, as I have always been in love with the region’s orca whales. They are such a beautiful and powerful species, with a high level of emotional intelligence. I was not surprised to discover they are considered to be very a spiritual creature amongst Indigenous culture. I have heard them described as “humankind’s mirror in the ocean.” In the water, they are the apex predator and have become so by harnessing the power of family and working together in pods to accomplish shared goals.

Pipeline expansion poses a threat to the resident orca population in the Pacific Northwest because their primary source of food is Chinook Salmon. The inevitable event of an oil spill or any leakage will put the Chinook Salmon supply at risk. Low food availability is already causing a crisis for the orca population in the form of malnourishment, leading to a spike in third-trimester miscarriages.

Increased tanker traffic also creates an issue for this highly communicative species, as it interferes with their calls and increased exposure is damaging to their hearing. A spill will also affect their ability to see properly, amongst other lethal consequences to this highly absorbent  mammal, who is already exposed to many harmful chemicals in the ocean.

After attending a few rallies and marches in the summer and fall of 2017 I found myself extremely frustrated and approaching the organizers and politicians in attendance demanding, “But what are we actually going to do?!” I was becoming thirsty for some direct action in order to make an impact.

Fortunately, there are multiple organizations in the Vancouver area who felt the same way. Groups including Coast Protectors, Greenpeace, 350.org, Stand Earth and Sea Wolves used Facebook as a platform to plan and execute a day of action on Oct. 28. This involved an on-land protest in solidarity with those taking to the water in kayaks. Sixty of these kayakivists set out to paddle our way as close to a Kinder Morgan barge as we could get, in order to disrupt construction for the day. For me that included touching the barge and leaving behind a “#NoTankersTofino” bright yellow sticker.

It was a long, hot day on the water. Many attendees took shifts floating around the barge and heading to shore for bathroom and food breaks. I was so electrified by the energy and passion surrounding me. That feeling combined with the fact that I am happiest on the water, granted me the ability to remain out there in my rented kayak for the duration of the action.

We spent the day chanting and cheering as we paddled in circles around the barge in order to disrupt construction on the pipeline. The barge was being used to expand Kinder Morgan’s  port facilities by dredging the seabed to install large steel piles in preparation for the pipeline.

When police approached, we were informed that we had a decision to make: we could either leave the vicinity or decide to be arrested. A group meeting was called and individual decisions were made.

For me, it was an easy and immediate response: If Kinder Morgan were calling the police to get us out of the water, it was going to happen the hard way. After witnessing the vessel’s security boat using their megaphone to explain to our group that we were trespassing on private property, I was frustrated at their lack of sensitivity and disconnect from reality.

This is not our land to begin with and the least we can do is respect those who are willing to share. Their words were so disrespectful to the Indigenous participants paddling alongside me. To me it boils down to consent. There is no consent from the Indigenous community for this pipeline. I thought we were all taught that no means no? It’s upsetting to be so close to an injustice that you seemingly can’t do anything to stop.

There were five kayakers, including myself, willing to risk arrest. We used a rope to link our kayaks together and amidst annoying heckling from the workers stationed on the barge we tied up to their equipment. This was to say that the water was just as much ours as theirs.

How can anything be more valuable than protecting the planet we live on? While floating around I was reminded of all the marine life who need a clean, abundant ecosystem to survive. The orcas have no means of speaking up for themselves, but I’m assuming they would vote against having toxic chemicals so close to their environment. So I will stand up in their place.

The Burnaby RCMP pulled the five of us out of the water and up onto their boat along with our kayaks. We were individually processed by the same couple of officers in the dining area of the watercraft. There was one officer filming us the whole time with a handheld video camera and a few others asking if we wanted blankets or water. My answer was “yes” to the blanket – which I never actually received – and “no” to the water since they wouldn’t allow us use of their onboard washroom. My phone was ripped from my hands when it was discovered that I was on a call and then again, shortly after, while I was taking a video.

During processing I was read the details of my offence and the regulations we must upheld. They used my ID to record and enter all my information and were aware that I was arrested in Ottawa the previous year for the Climate 101 action on Parliament Hill.

As a condition of my release, I am prohibited from going within 100 metres of Kinder Morgan property and must inform the Burnaby RCMP in the event of change of address or workplace. They were unable to speak to any specifics regarding travel regulations when I asked during my processing. However, while we were in the water they certainly used potential travel restrictions as an intimidation factor for those unsure if they would be willing to be arrested that day. Since one of the five arrested is currently in Mexico, it seems safe to say that this charge was no issue at the border.

The court date is set for Feb. 27, along with finger-printing that morning. Environmental organization Stand Earth are working hard on campaigns in opposition to Kinder Morgan and they have been providing support to the “Flotilla 5” kayakers who are facing charges. We have met to discuss the future of this case and while being presented the options individually, it was a unanimous decision to plead not-guilty.

The case is currently in a state of flux, but the most interesting defence we plan to use is something called the “defence of necessity.” This basically makes the point that we have exercised our democratic rights to their full extent and in order to stop the destruction of our environment and our health, every tool available must be utilized. This makes it necessary to use our bodies to halt any further construction.

Federal Climate Change Minister Catherine Mckenna announced Bill C-69 this week. It’s an environmental assessment bill designed to revamp the way projects affecting the environment are approved. It will force decision-makers to take into account Indigenous knowledge, health impacts and social impacts of such proposals.

While Kinder Morgan violates these three conditions, the Minister insists that “We need the (Trans Mountain) project to go ahead.” This “need” stems from the perception that the pipeline will create jobs and economic growth. But actually the pipeline threatens economic prosperity.

According to the organization Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED), if this pipeline expansion ultimately goes through, “The event of an oil spill will put over 200,000 jobs at risk, in industries such as tourism and real estate.” This is a dangerous risk to take for our economy.

At this stage the federal government has made their decision on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The people in power most likely won’t be changing their minds, so it’s obvious that acts of defiance are necessary.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the groups in opposition lack decision-making power. Our current system leaves the decisions to politicians and the corporations that can effectively lobby them.

I would like to draw your attention to the Tiny House Warriors and urge you to support them any way that you can. The Tiny House Warriors are from the Secwepemc Nation, who have never given up rights to their land. Any decision regarding their land, water or resources is made as a collective. Honouring the treaties and supporting Indigenous sovereignty is one of the most effective ways to protect the environment.

In their commitment to uphold this collective, the Tiny House Warriors are strategically building ten tiny houses along the 518 kilometre pipeline route to block access and monitor the construction worker camps, a historical threat for Indigenous women and girls in the community. The homes will be installed with off-the-grid solar power to begin an act of re-claiming their territory and asserting authority over unceded land.

This is concrete action and I am very impressed by their ingenuity and dedication. They are acting swiftly and ‘going big by going small’ to protect their community and fight for the environment.

Note: Shortly after publication, all of the Flotilla 5’s charges and conditions were dropped.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 5 (Feb/Mar 2018).

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