My 4 days on the line at the Burnaby Mountain Kinder Morgan protest.

How I spent 4 days on the line at the Burnaby Mountain Kinder Morgan protest.

On the night of Wednesday, November 19 2014 my phone rang the familiar tone of a Tac Troop Call out, within hours I would be in uniform on Centennial Parkway in Burnaby.   I’m attached to the Lower Mainland District Integrated Tactical Troop and one of our functions is crowd management.  Days before the callout the Supreme Court of BC issued an injunction that allowed Kinder Morgan  to conduct 2 survey drillings on the mountain in preparation to put a bitumen (Tar sands oil) pipeline through the mountain.  A group of protestors had already assembled on the site during the months before to protect the mountain, the environment and their homes.   They had a camp setup in the area known as “Borehole 2”, the gravel parking lot on the way up Centennial Parkway.

The Supreme Court injunction outlined a very specific area for Kinder Morgan to work that was defined by GPS coordinates.  It also stated that no one shall interfere with their work.

The protest camp was setup in a location that had to be cleared for the injunction.  The people were given days after the injunction was read without much police presence in order to move.  They chose not to.

This is where we showed up.  We arrived and the injunction was read again and again the people in the protest camp chose not to move.  Several people chose to make a statement, link arms and sit on the ground forcing us to make the first arrests of the week.

We began by taking control of the camp itself, which had a sacred fire burning.  We expanded our work area to encompass the totem pole area that was being carved.  While trying to work with the protestors and Kinder Morgan to determine exactly where the work area was to be we allowed a small, controlled group of people in to keep the fire going and continue carving the totem pole.

Through the day the area that we had to work was further defined and unfortunately the decision was made that we needed more space to the North.  Kinder Morgan’s work area was defined and we required a safe work space for ourselves and to get equipment and people into the work space.  Our command determined where our lines had to be.

The line of protestors did not agree with this and chose to resist our movement.  Command asked us to form a line and push the crowd North.  Prior to moving, our Negotiators and Command informed the crowd and asked everyone to move back to a specific point, many chose not to.

Thus began the first real confrontation between Police and Protestors.  We were enforcing a legal court order, they were standing up, passionately, and exercising their right to assemble and protest.  We moved the line to the North.

We established our area, put Police tape up and made it clear that anyone coming through the tape would be interfering with the court injunction and was arrestable for breaching the court order.  That was our “line in the sand” so to speak.

Use of Force

As I’ve been asked, Yes, I have seen some of the photos and the videos.  I cannot speak to the level of force used by any other officer.  It’s not my place, I don’t know what they saw, heard or felt and it’s not fair for me to speculate.  Each officer is personaly responsible for articulating the level of force they used.

I can tell you that I ended up with a wad of spit on my shoulder during this initial confrontation, I don’t know where it came from. I had a load of garbage tossed over me.  I know that when people pushed against me, as I was moving the line North, I pushed back.  I would have much rather preferred that a peaceful crowd move back to where they were asked and directed to be.  This was not the highlight of my week.

Protesters, Police

At one point the protestors blocked Kinder Morgan vehicles from bringing equipment up to the site.  This was interfering with their work.  We formed a wedge in front of the vehicles and marched up the hill moving protestors out of the way and ensuring no one would be hurt by the moving vehicles behind us.

Fighting the wrong fight

The crowd was obviously upset but most of them upset with Kinder Morgan and the fact that they were being allowed, by the Supreme Court of BC, to do their survey work.

Was the court wrong? Perhaps.  I know the decision is being appealed.  I know the Mayor of Burnaby is against the pipeline.

I know that crude oil and bitumen affects the environment negatively.

I agree 100% that as a world society we need to develop new sources of cleaner energy.  I also know that right now the world depends on oil.

As Tyner Gillies, another blogger, so eloquently put it in his post “Only As Good As My Word“, I was there to keep my word.  I was there because I swore an oath of office to uphold the laws of Canada.  The Supreme Court of BC issued an order that I swore to uphold.

There was a group of very passionate people who were angry that I, as a Police Officer, was there.  The insults were relentless at times.  I was called a myriad of colourful names.  I was ridiculed for not walking off the job.  One lady who looked like a nice normal mother type told me that without clean water I wouldn’t be able to have my coffee and doughnuts. Another screamed at me that the environment was more important than my pay check.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you don’t need to convince me that what you’re doing is important.  I get it, I appreciate you being there to make a statement, I appreciate you trying to get the word out to the masses about the environmental risks.

I didn’t show up for a pay check.  I didn’t show up because I thought if I didn’t I’d lose my job.  I showed up because I’m passionate about upholding the oath that I swore.

We are all cogs in this system.  The protestors were there to make a stand against big money, oil and to protect the environment and the land they hold sacred.  I was there to uphold the law of the land.   We have a process, we have a system.  It’s not perfect but we’re all part of it.

The fight is not with the Police.  The fight should be to educate the masses, get the public support, and convince the courts and politicians that’s not what the people want (or ultimately vote them out).  I support that fight and you can fight that fight without breaking the law.

Arrests

Yes, many people were arrested and the vast majority peacefully for walking across the police line.  Parents decided to bring their children through the line, the elderly also took a stand.

From this side of the system, I don’t understand it, aside from the fact that it gathers fleeting media attention.

What happens when you’re arrested for breaching a court order like this?  Well people on site cheer, you get put in a prisoner wagon and driven off site.

If the Police decide to recommend charges, you get released with a Promise to appear, possibly with some conditions not to do it again. If the police decide not to recommend charges you just get released and it’s over, you’re off the mountain and no longer in the spotlight.

If the Police do recommend charges, the Crown still have to approve them.  Your PTA may be cancelled some time before your court date.   In the event you make it to court, you’ll likely be paying a lawyer to argue the validity of the Supreme Court order and how you breached it.  This costs money.  There’s a big push online to crowd source the legal fees for these people that may make it in front of a judge.  There’s not likely to be any media at your trial unless you can convince them there’s a story in it.

Wouldn’t it be better to crowd source funding for an education campaign to convince the masses watching on TV, Twitter, YouTube, etc to get up and actually do something themselves?

Wouldn’t it be better to stay on the mountain and be a part of the presence and convince more people to join you instead of staying home on the couch using “I don’t want to be arrested” as an excuse not to be present too?

And yes, children crossed the line with their parents.  No they weren’t “arrested” or even legally detained.  The children were turned back over to another parent or guardian across the line.  Had both parents gotten themselves arrested what were we to do?  Well we would have had to turn the children over to the ministry because they can’t be arrested.  That’s the law, and it’s how the system works.  The parents knew that crossing the line was an arrest able offence but some how the media decided to play up the “Police arrest 11 yr old” headline angle.  As a parent I understand teaching your children values and to stand up for those values, I don’t understand teaching them to defy the law.

The Media

I’m not sure where the line is between reporting facts and selling a story but it sure did seem that the only media coverage was when the Police used force or when people, especially children and the elderly, got arrested.

I haven’t seen much coverage of someone throwing garbage over me, or people spitting at the line of Police.  How about all the times that we had good, healthy, interesting discussions with people across the tape and shook hands or posed for selfies?

It seemed when there was yelling and shouting, even a little pushing the cameras turned right to it.  When there was a hand shake, a nod, or even some smiles and laughing they turned away.

My experience

As this is my editorial piece I guess I owe it to you, the reader, to give my take on things.  It was a very interesting 4 days up on the mountain.  I learned some things.

On the first day, once the decision was made to allow the totem carvers back through the line, I was asked to initially stand with them.  It’s very rare that when we, the police, are working we allow someone who doesn’t agree with what we’re doing to hold and use sharp, pointy tools as they can very quickly become weapons. It was immediately apparent that the two gentlemen allowed to carve weren’t a threat.  They were passionate about their cause, and I wholeheartedly respect that.  One, more vocal in his disagreement with our presence than the other, argued that we had setup illegal lines.  I politely disagreed.  There needed to be a safe work space and there needed to be room to move equipment in and out.  Both gentlemen carvers were there every day I was and I respect their dedication.

On the first day when we had to push the line North, I had to physically step around a gentleman in orange rain gear.  I now know him to be Bob Kull and was happy to read his written account The RCMP were kind and civil as they arrested me on Burnaby Mountain. I was pleased to hear of the support from other protestors upon Mr. Kull’s release.

I also met a gentleman and lady, Eric and Julia, who faithfully attended, setup their mat, tarp or log and meditated in a yoga pose that I’m not quite flexible enough to pull off.  They had their own message and were dedicated to be there as much and as often as they could. They spoke with other officers and I had a chance to engage in discussion one morning.  I was standing on the line talking to a gentlemen just getting out of his tent about the reasons we were both there, one of the carvers came by and joined in and debated our reasoning as Eric arrived to setup his space.  I really appreciated Eric joining in the conversation and respected his point of view.  We were there for different reasons, both trying to set an example.  He made some very good points to the group around us that change starts with the smallest of actions and 1 person’s actions can serve as an example to others to create larger change.  He said perhaps they won’t win this battle but they need to keep fighting as the change needs to start with 1 person and an action.  He may have disagreed with some of the reason I stood there or some of the actions of some of my colleagues but he was respectful, made his point and did his thing.  If there’s anyone on that mountain that could convince me (if I needed convincing) what they were doing was right, it would be Eric and Julia.

There was a group of people that struck me as the middle aged local residents.  The people that made snide comments about not being able to have doughnuts and coffee without clean water.  The fact that they decided to be disrespectful completely tarnished their credibility.  You could have the best argument in the world but when it starts with “You’re only here for a pay check, it’s shameful! SHAMEFUL!” it’s hard to want to pay attention.

One morning I was very politely asked by someone to go home. I asked him what would happen if we all packed up and left.  He told me that he figured the Kinder Morgan employees would be peacefully escorted off the site but their equipment may not be left in working order.  Well if that were the case, not only would people be breaching the court order, the damage to equipment would constitute a criminal offence (mischief) and if the workers decided to try and protect the equipment there may even be assaults.  Our job was to prevent those criminal offences from occurring.

Combine that with a handful of people covering their mouths and faces yelling obscenities. We had garbage and sticks thrown at us.  We found a stash of glass bottles, we wondered if they were for recycling or were they going to be used as projectiles?  What if one well-intentioned person’s recycling became someone else’s projectile?  We heard reports of potential plans for violence.  We had to balance standing the line and interacting with people like average, normal members of society.

I personally don’t disagree with the message of the group at large.  I think they need to get their message out and educate the masses.  As I said before, I was there to honour my word, my oath, and uphold the law while trying to enable the people to have their say.

I made a commitment to the people of Canada and BC that I would uphold the laws of the land.  I don’t disagree that sometimes the laws need to be changed or those in power need to be replaced.  We have a system for that, don’t fight the system, be a part of it and make change.

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8 thoughts on “My 4 days on the line at the Burnaby Mountain Kinder Morgan protest.”

  1. I really appreciate your side of the story. I’m not sure there is a clear side to stand on with regards to the pipeline, but I’m really interested in your reasoning.

    You’re clearly in favour of upholding your commitment to enforcing Canada’s laws, but I wonder how far that would go? Obviously you wouldn’t enforce them if it became more Nazi-Germany-ish, telling you to kill civilians. Would you enforce them if they wanted you to attack peaceful protesters? Where’s the line?

    That’s what the crux of the protesters’ arguments were, I think. We all recognize there’s a line that you won’t cross, and they wanted it to be further than it is, with respect to Kinder Morgan. I’m not sold on their points, but I would be very interested to hear where your line is and why the KM pipeline doesn’t fall beyond it.

    1. Jonathan,

      The Nazi-Germany argument is a frustrating one from my perspective. It’s really unrealistic and an unfair comparison. As I stated, I made the decision to uphold the law, I wasn’t there because I was ordered to be. Perhaps I, unlike a lot of the protestors, still believe that even though our system can be dysfunctional it’s workable.

      Somebody, far smarter than I, convinced the Supreme Court of BC that allowing Kinder Morgan to take 2 survey samples to determine the viability of a pipeline was worth the impact. Perhaps the court allowed this to happen because it wouldn’t be considered just or legal in a higher court to deny the pipeline without all of the information.

      Let’s also face it, we’re a world that depends on oil right now. Perhaps the larger fight needs to be for cleaner energy sources. For now there’s an obvious demand for the oil. I don’t know for sure but there’s a part of me that feels a pipeline may actually be safer than road or rail transport. Should the pipeline go somewhere else? Perhaps. Could the samples being taken possibly prove that the pipeline needs to go somewhere else?

      I was accused of not having all of the facts, they were right. I don’t know everything about the pipeline. I can’t know everything about all of the issues. I am but a small cog in a vast system.

      I can, however, allow people passionate about their cause that are better informed than me to demonstrate and to educate the public (including myself). We can’t fight all of the fights ourselves, we have to allow people with specific knowledge to present and educate.

      The line I won’t cross is when I believe an illegal order has been made. As I’ve said, I don’t believe the Supreme Court of BC allowing survey/core samples to be obtained was an illegal order.

      Perhaps the difference is that while our system is vast, slow to change and can be quite dysfunctional at times, I have faith in it and have to support it.

  2. well written piece, and I applaud the restraint being shown by Law Enforcement in this situation, but question if that restraint would still be there if the media was not present?

    I disagree with the Kinder Morgan proposal, and am very disappointed with the court ruling, it is a slap in the face to the city of Bby. and it’s mayor and residents who oppose this project. That being said, the court orders came down, and those protestors who choose to break the law and continue to break it knowingly should face arrest and the related charges.

    Explaining things to civilian readers can be tough, so maybe I misunderstood, but at one point you came across as if you put your personal oath above your own morals, I found that troubling. Frankly I would have rather heard you say you were there because it was your job and that’s what they pay you to do. That’s more understandable to a blue collar guy like me. I am aware of media biases against police officers, but when the thin blue line comes out with the mantra that it will keep to it’s oath and enforce whatever they’re told to by the courts, which history has proven time and time again not to be incorruptible, as a citizen it really makes me worry who our police are serving?

    I’m also unclear about these mixed unit task forces, you were hired by the Corporation of Delta, but the tax payers of Delta are paying you to confront hippies in Burnaby? Who’s covering your regular Delta shift? I’ll admit to total ignorance as to how these units work, but for you what is the draw? Feather in your cap? Something to move your career forward? Opportunity to work with other departments, further training?

    Good article as I said, if your aim was just to inform the reader then you have succeeded. If it was to sway opinions it didn’t do anything to this one.

    Look forward to reading more from you and appreciate the time you took to write this. If you are able to response to some of my questions that would be appreciated as well.

    1. Brian,

      Thanks for your comment. As I tried to also explain in my reply to Jonathan this isn’t about putting my oath over my morals. I’d also argue to some degree that it is my job and I am paid to keep my word. As long as I don’t believe the order is illegal, I will uphold it. Even if I disagree with it, perhaps I don’t have all of the information or perhaps the order needs to be appealed or changed. There’s a difference between disagreeing with an order or law and believing it to be illegal. If I only supported and upheld the laws I agreed with I wouldn’t be standing true to my oath to uphold the laws of the land. It’s not my place to decide which laws to uphold or enforce and which ones not to. There is a system to change the laws that we disagree with (though as I’ve said it is cumbersome, slow and at times feels dysfunctional). Just as you stated even though you disagree with the order, those that chose to knowingly break it should face the consequence.

      As for the integrated team, I can’t speak to why specifically Delta has chosen to commit but I can tell you that it’s a pool of officers available 24×7 with specialized training that any jurisdiction that supports it can draw from. Delta has had occasion to rely on the resources of the troop. For me personally I have several reasons to work on it. It provides opportunity for specialized training and as you may se from other posts, I’m involved in training and have a personal interest in this area. I have ample opportunity to work with peers and some really great police officers from different jurisdictions and specialty sections and network to build connections. It expands my knowledge base and I can bring the experience back to the team I work with day to day in Delta. As for the tax payers and who’s paying the bill, I can’t speak to the specifics but I believe the jurisdiction (whether it be a Municipal, Provincial or Federal one) that requests the troop takes on the responsibility.

      I wouldn’t say my aim was to sway opinions. The entire purpose of this blog from when I started was to share my thoughts with the community, to share my perspective and to engage with the community. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and I don’t expect to change opinions, I’m really just trying to share this side of the line with those interested in reading about it.

      I forgot in my initial response to address your question if the restraint of the Police would still be there if the media wasn’t. As I said, each of us is personally responsible for our actions, our restraint and our use of force. I know that I wouldn’t have done anything different if the media wasn’t there. For me, the simple fact is that you gain nothing managing a crowd when they turn on you, the quickest way to have a crowd turn on you is to use unjust force. Laws, Media, Perception and Optics aside, a lack of restraint would, realistically, just make our job more difficult.

  3. Due to the ongoing nature of the issues surrounding the pipeline construction and protest and because the blog post represented my personal opinions not those of the agency in charge of the police response, I was asked by superiors not to respond any further to this story. Unfortunately, that meant I was unable to repost or respond to any further comments once the directive was issued. I have always welcomed and encouraged feedback and debate on my blog whether in support of my writing or questioning it, and I am disappointed that I am unable to continue to do so in this case. Please be assured though that I have read your comments and thank you for taking the time to respond.

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