British Columbia

'We'll do what we have to do': Trans Mountain pipeline opponents to ramp up protests

Opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion say they will do whatever it takes to stop the project after suffering a devastating legal blow at the Federal Court of Appeal.

4 B.C. First Nations have sought leave to appeal ruling that cleared way for expansion project

Activists are preparing for a long battle against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion say they will do whatever it takes to stop the project after suffering a devastating legal blow at the Federal Court of Appeal.

Activists are preparing for a prolonged battle on the land and water that they hope will remain non-violent but that could lead to clashes with police, said Will George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

"For the longest time, I've been, from my elders, under strict orders to do this in a peaceful way," he said Wednesday. "Personally, I'm fed up. If it has to get ugly, it will get ugly."

The legal process is not yet over after four First Nations lost the court challenge on Tuesday. The Tsleil-Waututh has sought leave to appeal a September ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada and the four groups also have 60 days to file leave in the latest decision.

If the high court declines to hear the cases, opponents will have few avenues left to stall construction other than civil disobedience. Trans Mountain Corp. also faces some regulatory hurdles, including that most of the detailed pipeline route has not yet been approved in southern British Columbia.

Potential for arrests

Activists will meet in the next few days to plan future demonstrations, said George, whose previous actions against the project include interrupting speeches by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and being arrested for rappelling off a bridge.

There are no specific new demonstrations to announce yet, but he said he expects more protesters to gather at existing sites in B.C. including a "watch house" outside a shipping terminal in Burnaby and a collection of tiny homes in the Interior.

Squamish Nation Coun. Khelsilem said there are several groups that continue to mobilize to stop the project including one that put out a call for B.C. residents who would be willing to face arrest.

"This whole legal battle has put a halt onto what otherwise would have been a confrontation much sooner. It's delayed it in some ways. It depends on where the court battles continue," he said.

"But I think, at the end of the day, there are a number of people who are willing to do a lot to defend this coast."

Squamish Nation Coun. Khelsilem said 'there are a number of people who are willing to do a lot to defend this coast.' (Blaire Russell)

Khelsilem noted B.C. has a long history of civil disobedience. More than 200 people were arrested at protests in Burnaby in the spring of 2018, including Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, who was elected Vancouver mayor later that year.

Bev Manuel, who is part of a group called the Tiny House Warriors, said a handful of small homes have been built along the pipeline construction route in an effort to protect unceded Secwepemc territory in Blue River, B.C.

"We'll do what we have to do to deter them," she said, adding they have plans to build three additional homes and expect more opponents to join them in the coming weeks and months.

'We respect the right to peacefully protest'

Trans Mountain Corp. said in a statement that "expressions of opinions" about the project must respect the terms of an injunction against anyone blocking access to the Burnaby terminal.

"We respect the right to peacefully protest and there are many ways to express opinions in a safe and lawful manner," it said.

The Federal Court of Appeal decision noted Canada invited 129 Indigenous groups to participate in consultations and, in the end, more than 120 either support the project or do not oppose it. As well, 43 First Nations have signed benefits agreements with Trans Mountain.

Construction on the federally owned project is underway at terminals and pump stations in B.C. and Alberta and pipe is being laid in the Greater Edmonton area.

However, the company cannot lay pipe in areas where the Canada Energy Regulator has not yet approved the detailed route. Overall, 68 per cent of the route has been approved, but that figure drops to about 12 per cent in Metro Vancouver and no approvals have been given in the Fraser Valley.

Oral detailed route hearings kicked off last week in Spruce Grove, Alta., and others are scheduled later this month in Edmonton and Kamloops, B.C.

Hearings for the route stretching from south of Kamloops through to Burnaby are expected this spring and summer but dates have not yet been set.

The most recent construction schedule filed for the project spans through June. The work planned for B.C. includes pipeline construction in the Kamloops area as well as a crossing on the Fraser River in the Lower Mainland.


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