Indigenous groups lead protest against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline plan

Indigenous leaders beat drums and sang out against the project Saturday morning, hours before a much smaller pro-pipeline rally was held downtown.

Thousands took part in anti-pipeline protest; another 200 staged rally in support of project

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists beat drums and sang as they protested Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday morning. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Thousands of people gathered in Burnaby, B.C., this weekend to participate in a First Nations-led protest against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Indigenous leaders beat drums and sang out against the project Saturday morning, saying they won't step aside for construction.

A few hours later, a much smaller pro-pipeline rally was held downtown.

Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation told protesters that it will take more rallies and protests to stop the $7.4-billion project, which is set to increase the flow of oil products from 300,000 barrels to 890,000 barrels per day.

"It's going to take gatherings such as this ... [to] make sure the environment is not laid to waste and taken away from future generations. This is what we stand for today," George said, speaking by megaphone to the crowd gathered outside Burnaby's Lake City Way Skytrain station.

A sign held by protesters at anti-pipeline rally in Burnaby on March 10. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Kinder Morgan received federal approval in November 2016 for an expansion of the pipeline, which runs between Edmonton and Burnaby.

Burnaby RCMP said 5,000 people took part in the anti-pipeline protest, though estimates from the protesters were much higher. About 200 people appeared at the afternoon's pro-pipeline event.

Watch house constructed

Members of the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations organized Saturday's march, which led to a "watch house" being constructed by the Indigenous groups to observe tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet.

George explained that structures like this, known as "Kwekwecnewtxw," were traditionally built by Coast Salish peoples to watch for enemies. He said the environmental threat posed by the pipeline expansion constitutes such an enemy.

RCMP numbered the protesters in Burnaby at 5,000, but organizers said the number was much higher. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Squamish First Nation elder Robert Nahanee said expanding the pipeline will only add more pollution to the coast where he grew up.

"My family was food gatherers. We gathered clams, crabs, oysters, fish — everything. That's how I grew up. Now we can't even do that," Nahanee said. "We need to stand up and hear our voices. My voice is: O, Canada, you're on native land."

Six First Nations filed a court challenge to the project last fall, along with the City of Burnaby and City of Vancouver.

'Just build it'

The smaller pro-pipeline march was held at the Olympic flame in downtown Vancouver, under signs reading: "Enough politics. Just build the pipeline."

Around 200 people gathered in downtown Vancouver on Saturday to voice their support for Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Organizer James Robson travelled from Alberta to attend, and said it's important for pro-energy, pro-resource people to voice their support for pipeline projects that they believe will help Canada's economy.

"This is what makes democracies important, is people standing up for what they believe in," he said.

Rick Birch, also from Alberta, said he's worked his whole career in the oil and gas industry and describes Trans Mountain and Kinder Morgan as responsible companies, committed to making the expansion as safe as possible.

"I know that Kinder Morgan and Trans Mountain are very, very careful," he said.

Rick Birch, an oil and gas industry worker, says he is not worried about the potential of an oil spill from an expanded pipeline running from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Some British Columbians at the rally, like Jason Dettieh from Fort Nelson, said there were risks to some communities if the expansion is stalled.

"There's a lot of us that depend on the oil and gas industry," he said.

Protest injunction

On Friday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted Kinder Morgan an interim injunction aimed at preventing anti-pipeline activists from protesting construction at two terminals in Burnaby.

The injunction restricts protesters from coming within 50 metres of the facilities until Wednesday, when a hearing on the matter will continue.

With files from the Canadian Press​

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story gave coverage to the pro-pipeline rally that was disproportionate based on the number of people who attended it. The story has been updated to more accurately reflect both sides of the debate.
    Mar 12, 2018 11:31 AM PT