Trish Mills spent the early morning hours of June 26 with a bike lock strapped around her neck, chained to a fence outside Enbridge Pipeline's North Westover pumping station.
She, along with dozens of other activists, took over the facility a week earlier to protest Enbridge's proposal to reverse the flow of the line 9B pipeline which runs from Montreal through Westover in rural Hamilton.
The 29 year old sat down with CBC Hamilton to discuss her arrest, the ins and outs of activism, and just how she thinks people in Hamilton feel about her groups' protests.
CBC: What happened on the day you were arrested?
Mills: They showed up when I was sleeping. We were all kind of napping in the barricade. We actually woke up to the radio call from our police liaison stating that he was being arrested. So that was when we sort of knew that things weren't going to go as planned for most folks.
What was being arrested like?
When they first came in, it was really confusing because we couldn't see anything outside of the barricade. All the voices and the movement were just completely disjointed. They had the barricade apart pretty quickly and then came in and had to cut everyone's locks off.
Were you locked to something at that point?
Yeah. We had the barricade around us and we were attached to the barricade itself. The barricade was attached to us and we were chained to the facility fence. They ended up climbing over the fence to get to our locks from behind, so the worst part of that was the vibration of the lock on your neck. At one point they actually were choking me with the lock to get me to let go of it because I had my hand back there.
(You can watch video that Mills shot of the arrest process here.)
Was that the first time you'd ever been arrested?
It was the first time I'd ever been arrested on criminal charges.
But you have been arrested on activism-related offenses before?
How many times?
A few times in Montreal, a couple times in Toronto. In Hamilton, this was the first one.
And you're from where, originally?
I was born in Edmonton, grew up in Kitchener and then moved to Hamilton.
How long have you been living here?
About six or seven years.
Was the arrest and the process afterwards about what you expected?
Yeah. I had a lot of time to go over stuff, and I spoke with other people who had gone through similar sorts of things. I had previous experience to base it off of loosely. So I guess in that aspect it was pretty much as expected.
Were you frightened?
Not at first, not really. After they actually took us out of the barricade and arrested us, it was fine. There was that moment of them actually choking me, and that was scary. That's hard to even watch or listen to now. I think at that point I got scared.
So what charges are you facing exactly?
As it stands, mischief. It's not too horrible, but it's still a criminal charge.
What kind of attention do you think this protest brought to the issue at hand?
I think it depends on the people. I feel like there was a really good opportunity that maybe we missed to reach out to Westover residents on the first day or two of the action to let them know we weren't there to upset the neighbourhood before it got controversial.
As far as inspiring other activism, and bringing up public awareness, I think it did an excellent job. It was news — it was national news. We had someone climb into a pipe in Michigan in solidarity and we had folks in Texas take over a pumping station in solidarity as well, so I think it's really good.
It seemed as if some Westover residents were pretty angry about this whole thing. Did you guys consider that, and what do you think was the overall impression you were getting from people who live by this pipeline when all was said and done?
I think it was a mixed bag. What got into media was mostly the interviews from houses directly on either side, and they were supportive of the pipeline — one of them works for Enbridge. We walked into it expecting there would be some friction in the community — but honestly, we had a lot of neighbours from Westover come by and be supportive, too. Offering showers, food, water, storage for our things.
But you would have to expect that when you do something like this, you're going to make people angry.
Yeah. Some people believe really firmly in the law and some people were upset that the workers couldn't get to work — but it comes down to really wanting to stop this project. To do that, sometimes the law doesn't uphold environmental protection.
The process is totally broken. We tried the process before all of this happened. That process failed. The federal government has given themselves the power to override any independent decision made by the NEB (National Energy Board). That process is really just giving the illusion of democracy.
You say you're bringing more light to the issue — but doesn't it bring more negative attention, too?
I guess the individuals or agencies that are more likely to be against us from the start are probably more vocal now, I'm sure.
Some say that you are a group of "professional protesters" — that this is what you do. Is that the case for anyone?
Not that I'm aware of. Everything that we received for this action was fundraised and donated from the community. Money came out of my pocket to go to this action, and I'm not the only one. I almost wish.
There have been accusations that environmental charity Environmental Defence Canada was funding this action. What do you say to that?
That organization is actually reprimanding some of their employees for their involvement and also adding "no direct action" clauses to their employment contracts because of threats of an audit.
So what do you do?
I'm actually a student. I'll be starting college in the fall — veterinary technician.
There were people from aboriginal groups at the North Westover protest as well. Were they part of your group at the start? Did they contact your group or did you contact them?
We did a callout. We had liaised with some people from Six Nations before the action and once the action started the callout went wide. So anyone that was interested in participating came.
So it wasn't a matter of seeking out someone from Six Nations to have them there as a representative?
As far as I know we did try to sit down with a couple of folks from Six — I'm not sure how far that got — I wasn't directly involved in those talks.
What would you say to the sentiment that protesters were co-opting a Six Nations issue and using it to pull favour to your cause?
I would say this isn't just a Six Nations cause — this affects everyone. We're supposed to be working side by side, and not preventing each other from doing each others work.
There definitely was some…not friction, but there were ongoing discussions near the end of the action with Six Nations folks who felt we had gone about it wrong. We addressed that, we issued an apology, and it's something to work on in the future. It's a learning experience for us, too.
How did they feel that you guys had gone about it wrong?
They were feeling a little bit tokenized — a few of their community members. Some people from Six Nations were upset that they didn't have an opportunity to help plan the action. They just wanted more involvement from the get-go.
Does being arrested change how you would do things in the future?
I learned a lot about how to do things better. I'm not going to let it stop my organizing, though.
Do you get the other side though — that you're stopping people from doing their jobs, you're stopping ordinary people just going to work? Does that ever play in the back of your mind?
It does. It has to. Otherwise you're not being fair. But when it comes down to allowing some individuals to work who were going to get paid anyway, and allowing something potentially devastating to happen — it's a balance. Where is the line?
I understand. I don't necessarily agree.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.