I’ve learned some things from being arrested at the main Kinder Morgan gate in Burnaby for civil contempt of an injunction to stay at least 5 metres away, important details that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. They might be of interest to others.
First, despite being told not to talk to the police, I dared to make comments to a few of them and to ask some questions. They provided some heartening feedback and thought-provoking information.
I thanked the commander of the two-dozen or so RCMP in attendance for their respectful treatment of protesters. Not one officer wavered from total professionalism throughout their long hours spent upholding the Supreme Court of B.C. injunction.
He replied that, in Canada, we have the right to peacefully defy the law where we see that our laws and legal processes need changing. They have to play their part, and we’re allowed to play ours, understanding that consequences follow our actions. In other places and forms of government, repercussions can be dire and deadly. We agreed that we have blessings to count from both sides of our encounter.
I and another police officer agreed that there was nothing personal in our stances, that we’re all just people, and we all have rights and due process to follow. Still, they kept it gratifyingly personable. The best example was seeing a few front-line officers accept smudging by a First Nations leader, using their hands to waft the sweet smoke over their faces and down their shoulders. What a fine meeting and acceptance of cultures.
I asked one of two RCMP officers dressed in dun-coloured clothing, with base-ball caps that said, “Liaison Division”, about their role. He told me that, since the disastrous 1980s confrontations in Ontario, the force had learned to have personnel to work with the protest organizers. Their go-between help at the KM gates and First Nations’ Watchhouse was working as intended, and I thanked them for it.
I then asked about where, exactly, Kinder Morgan’s property line was, in relation to the street and entry road to their gate. Interestingly KM owns right out to the street, so the injunction to stay 5 metres from their gate wasn’t necessary. The problem, he said, was that KM built a pathway parallel to their fence line, which crossed their entry road, and they didn’t want to charge regular walkers traversing the driveway with trespassing.
Still, the pathway cuts across a distance of considerably more than 5 metres away from the gate, and KM has the right to invoke police to arrest anyone they want for trespassing, certainly if those people are blocking the gate and refusing to move. Which is to say, KM got the B.C. Supreme Court, in early March, to place a 5-metre injunction at all of the gates leading in to the tank farm, even the main entry way where it wasn’t needed. Why this overkill? Why use provincial courts to lay down the heavy hand of the law, when there’s a law already that serves the purpose?
It’s bullying, of course, playing the system and all of us to force B.C. to assume the risks of their pipeline twinning, expanded tank farm in an urban area (decidedly against hard-learned lessons from tank-farm explosions and fires throughout the world), and tidewater issues with tanker traffic, anchoring, and wildlife impacts.
Which brings me to why I, as a long-time student and teacher of the karate-way, would defy the law and get arrested. (Note, not competitive, tournament karate, rather the original, traditional Okinawan way of never throwing the first strike and always working for win-win solutions.)
Kinder Morgan, a Texas giant, may not see the expansion of bitumen markets overseas, by building infrastructure that will keep fossil-fuel sludge burning for two, three, four generations to come, as throwing a strike. They may not see the Salish Sea as home to creatures far more endangered than billions of people hungry for energy, power, and riches, rather view it as a mere industrial route, hence not a strike. They may not see the National Energy Board’s “broken environmental review process”, as Prime Minister Trudeau called it before recently announcing a much-needed overhaul, as an unfair way to win, hence not a strike. They may not see starting work before permits are fully in place as a strike.
But to me, these are strikes, and I’ve tried to answer them. The Okinawan karate way is to never hit back at the first sign of aggression, rather first try to avoid it, i.e. “If there’s trouble, just don’t be there.” — not possible, in this case, to walk away, and let the bullying continue. The next step is to work, with good-humour, to straighten out the problem. Thus, over the last few years, I’ve submitted in my concerns to the NEB, a farce, or stuffed-shirt process, as well as to the Prime Minister and every politician with possible influence. I wasted a day in Victoria at a public-input session that was obviously so token that it hurt. The final step, when the aggression won’t stop, is to make a definitive, aggressive move back. And so I have.
Is getting arrested for civil contempt of an injunction, when being arrested for trespassing would have sufficed, definitive? No, it’s not enough in itself, but it’s the best I can do with my limited Power of One.
Now, 173 arrestees have contributed their Power of One. Should the arrests continue through spring and summer, they will, I suspect, add up to thousands. Led by powerful First Nations people with immense integrity and organizational skills, coordinated with RCMP officers who understand how our laws and legal processes work and get changed, Kinder Morgan and its government allies and cronies may finally have to acknowledge that they’ve met their match.
Time will tell. In the meantime, both sides may want to keep two things in mind: We’re all extremely lucky as Canadians that peaceful protests and blockades such as this are possible, and, as Sheikh Faid said during the 1970s oil crisis, “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, and the oil age won’t end because we run out of oil.” Can we do better and smarter? Yes, of course. That’s a win-win we can all agree on.