Protest by pipeline opponents dangling from Vancouver bridge ends

A demonstration where people were dangling from beneath the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver above Burrard Inlet since early Tuesday morning has ended.

Police emergency response team moved in Wednesday afternoon

A member of the RCMP Emergency Response team rappels down to one of the people participating in the "aerial blockade" above the Burrard Inlet on Wednesday. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

A public demonstration that involved seven people dangling from beneath the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver has ended. 

A group of 12 people climbed up onto the bridge to form what they called an "aerial blockade", beginning on Tuesday morning. Their goal was to prevent oil tanker traffic from getting in or out of the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. 

Of the dozen people, seven rappelled themselves below the span, suspended in mid-air above the Burrard Inlet while five others remained on the catwalk above them to provide various supports. 

The blockade, organized by Greenpeace Canada, was the latest in ongoing opposition efforts against the pipeline expansion project which is projected to lead to a seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through the Burrard Inlet.

"Part of civil disobedience is the open and forthright breaking of certain laws in order to uphold higher morals and higher laws," Greenpeace spokesperson Alex Speers-Roesch said, watching from a distance as the RCMP moved in.

At least one person was lowered manually by the RCMP Emergency Response Team. Several others lowered themselves voluntarily from beneath the span and into waiting police boats below.

According to the RCMP, those involved in the incident will be facing mischief charges, as well as a charge related to the shipping act. 

Will George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation was among those dangling beneath the bridge. The First Nation has been among the most vocal opponents to the pipeline expansion and has challenged it on several fronts: through formal regulatory processes, the courts, and public rallies.

"I'll do whatever it takes to let people know this pipeline won't be built," said George in a telephone interview while he was still hanging in his hammock above the waters of the Burrard Inlet. 

A group of people were hanging beneath the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge above the Burrard Inlet in Metro Vancouver in a demonstration against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

George said he was used to being in the air after spending 18 years cleaning the exterior of highrise buildings in downtown Vancouver.

He said by being part of the aerial blockade, he was setting an example of leadership to his son and continuing his community's opposition to the pipeline expansion.

The twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline will nearly triple its capacity, to an estimated 890,000 barrels a day, and increase tanker traffic to 34 tankers a month from approximately five.

"I don't mind standing in the way and letting people know that tar sands bitumen will not be travelling through my body of water, especially over 400 tankers a year," said George.

The seven people hanging in the hammocks were being assisted by five people on the catwalk above. George said that as he heard the traffic moving on the bridge above him on Wednesday morning, he thought of all those people driving to work for the day.

"They choose to live here because they love it here. And that's why I'm here. I'm here to protect what they love."

Tanker waiting to leave

The blockade group said it was successful in preventing one oil tanker from taking its load out to sea. Anchored in the Burrard Inlet not far from the bridge is an oil tanker named the Serene Sea. The blockade group said the tanker was scheduled to leave for China on Tuesday.

The oil tanker the Serene Sea (left) loaded with crude oil and anchored in the Burrard Inlet on Wednesday morning. According to a a marine traffic website, the tanker is destined for a port in China, just north of Hong Kong. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

A spokesperson from Kinder Morgan said the tanker filled up with crude oil at the Westridge Marine Terminal and is "waiting for suitable conditions at its Port of Vancouver designated mooring location."

The spokesperson went on to write, in an emailed statement, that the company respects the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully.

"It is unfortunate that the actions of these individuals have caused disruptions to vessels and individuals that transit to and from the waters east of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge," read the statement.

The Port of Vancouver said it was monitoring the situation closely, and that it was not safe for deep sea vessels and others to pass under the bridge while the protesters were in place.