Green Party Leader Elizabeth May arrested at anti-pipeline protest in Burnaby

Green Party Leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May was arrested Friday while protesting Kinder Morgan’s expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline in Burnaby. May said she was protesting in solidarity with demonstrators across the country who are fighting the project.

May and Kennedy Stewart, New Democrat MP for Burnaby South, were arrested about noon after standing with signs reading “PM Trudeau: Climate leaders don’t build pipelines” at the gates of a Kinder Morgan worksite.

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“I’m charged with civil contempt,” May told the Times Colonist, noting that it’s not a criminal charge. “I’m alleged to have blocked the road.”

Protest organizers said about 100 people were taken into custody.

She said the pipeline expansion means dire consequences for First Nation communities and for the environment. The expansion project will triple the capacity of the pipeline to nearly 900,000 barrels from 300,000 and increase tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet and Strait of Georgia.

“I feel in my heart that I’ve done the right thing,” May said. “I’m just doing my duty in reconciliation [to Indigenous communities] and in climate action and on behalf of the constituents of Saanich-Gulf Islands who are vehemently against seeing our Salish Sea have seven times more tankers loaded with bitumen. This is a project that does not have the permission of British Columbians.”

Burnaby RCMP officers asked May, Stewart and fellow protesters to step away from the gates as they were in violation of a B.C. Supreme court injunction barring protesters from being within five metres of Kinder Morgan’s two sites on Burnaby Mountain.

When they refused, Mounties told them they were under arrest.

May was flanked by RCMP officers as she was led down Burnaby Mountain. She said she grabbed their arms to prevent slipping on the muddy, rocky ground.

“It was a very gentle and kind arrest,” she said. She said she hugged the two arresting officers before she left.

May was led into a tent set up by RCMP as a processing centre.

She signed an undertaking agreeing to not return to that site again before her court date of June 14.

May said that does not prevent her from taking part in other protests or from continuing to voice her opposition to the project.

She said she was released within half an hour.

“I feel very strongly that it was important as MPs to stand and say: ‘This is our responsibility, and the federal government has made a very large mistake in betraying their commitment and promises,’ ” May said. “When you’re fully conscious of your role in leadership, I really don’t think you have much choice other than to engage in non-violent civil disobedience if that’s the course of standing up against a wrong-headed, climate-disastrous project that violates Indigenous rights.”

The Federal Court of Appeal is hearing a consolidated lawsuit that will feature arguments against the pipeline from seven First Nations, environmental organizations, and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby. The province of British Columbia is an intervenor.

The permits that allowed Kinder Morgan to obtain the civil injunction blocking protesters are “entirely fragile,” May said. If the federal court rules against the pipeline project, civil charges against protesters will likely be quashed, she said.

A lawyer for Trans Mountain, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Canada, told a judge at hearings on the injunction application that the protesters’ goal was to cause so much financial harm through delays that the company would be forced to abandon the $7.4-billion project, which has been approved by the National Energy Board and the federal government.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside of NDP MP Murray Rankin’s Victoria constituency office and at NDP MP Randall Garrison’s Saanich office on Friday. Similar rallies took place at the offices of 44 members of Parliament across the country.

Rankin could not be at the rally but phoned in to thank the protesters for making their opposition known.

“It shows the level of concern in our community for this very risky project,” Rankin said in an interview. “The government of Canada has to know that the level of opposition on the West Coast to this project is just remarkable. And it’s only going to grow.”

Garrison told the crowd at his office: “Kinder Morgan should never have been approved. The seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through our waters is not something that we can accept. One spill could destroy traditional food and ceremonial fisheries of four First Nations and tens of thousands of jobs in recreational fishing, tourism, and whale watching that depend on the clean environment.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the pipeline is in the “national interest.” Rankin said that implies anyone against the pipeline is unpatriotic.

“It saddens me that the government is labeling those of us who are trying to protect the fragile West Coast environment as somehow traitors,” Rankin told the protesters by speaker phone.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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