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In court, supporting BROKE

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After the drumming ceremony at the entrance of the courthouse

After the drumming ceremony at the entrance of the courthouse

I went to court today. There was a last-minute call for a show of support for the defendants against a lawsuit brought by KinderMorgan against BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposing KinderMorgan Expansion), as well as against selected individuals, including SFU biochem prof Lynne Quarmby.

If you haven’t followed the story: KinderMorgan wants to expand its pipeline (current terminal Burnaby) in order to export diluted bitumen. It wants to drill through Burnaby Mountain, and has started exploratory tests, chopping down trees from the municipal park to do so. Burnaby City Hall says they must respect city bylaws (and not cut trees in a park), but the National Energy Board told Burnaby that their by-laws cannot block a national energy project.

So residents of Burnaby (pretty outraged, as you may imagine) have decided that they like their park and that they’re going to hang around there – well, precisely where KinderMorgan wants to work. Yesterday KinderMorgan served them with a lawsuit, charging them with trespassing, among other things; residents and other activists claim that since they are on public property, their actions cannot be considered trespassing.

Today was the first day in court, where the only thing that was decided was to postpone the case to give defendents time to prepare, and, in the case of two of them, to find lawyers. The lawsuit was served after 5pm, suit documents are about ten centimeters think, and one of the defendants, Adam Gold, was served through a Facebook message. But the courtroom was packed with sympatizers; I counted over 160, and found out there was another dozen outside who were denied entry because the room was at capacity.

On the one hand, one could say that the company, KinderMorgan, has been patient, and is now resorting to legal remedies in order to be able to do its work; and the activists are nimby-types who get in the way of prosperity. On the other hand, one could picture the defendants as ordinary folks bullied by a rich and powerful company who won’t hesitate to intimidate people through frivolous lawsuits.

Indeed, there was a palpable sense of indignation among the activists when they found out that KinderMorgan had re-started work on the mountain while everyone was in the courtroom. Is KinderMorgan stooping so low as to use our courts as a diversion tactic? It certainly doesn’t produce very good optics.

I know where I stand, but what if you’re new to the situation? How are you going to make up your mind as to which side your own, given the complexity of the issues?

It boils down to trust. I saw a bunch of ordinary people, which I could relate to, but there’s always the doubt that they may be earnest but misguided, somehow manipulated. But among the defendants is Lynne Quarmby, award-winning professor at SFU, an expert in unicellular algae whose research has led to an understanding of human diseases such as polycystic kidney disease. Who also cares about her students and won a teaching award. But, mostly, who is a practicing scientist, not the kind of person who can be swayed by emotional appeals and specious logic. For me, that clinches it: I trust her judgment and her values. Iif she cares about the situation enough to put her career and her research on the line, she cannot be doing this lightly. So even if I hadn’t had a chance to explore the issue throroughly myself, I know I can trust her to do the right thing – and this is where my support goes.

For me, being there helped a bit alleviate the sense of impotence I have. I support BROKE, I give a bit of money to Forest Ethics and others who oppose the pipeline; but I don’t have the time, it’s not in my priorities, it’s… – let’s be frank, I don’t know if I have the guts to sit in a blockade. But every bit helps; if a lot of people act like me, show their support, contact their MP, or contribute to a fund for court costs, those who are courageous enough to be on the line won’t feel isolated.

SFU professors Lynne Quarmby and Stephen Collis, with supporters, wait for the judge decision during a break on the steps of the courthouse

SFU professors Lynne Quarmby and Stephen Collis, with supporters, wait for the judge decision during a break on the steps of the courthouse


Written by enviropaul

October 31, 2014 at 8:09 pm

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