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.
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.
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.
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.
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.