Ian Anderson was only briefly interrupted when a sharply dressed man stood up and disrupted his speech. The CEO of Kinder Morgan Canada may have been braced for controversy as he addressed the Vancouver Board of Trade on Thursday. After all, this was similar to a business event in 2014 when activist Sean Devlin walked right up behind then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper holding a sign reading "Climate Justice Now."
This time, security guards were ready to swiftly intervene. But not before the message was delivered to the business crowd gathered to hear the CEO promote his company's pipeline expansion.
"My name is William George, and I'm from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. Please allow me to say a few words... You guys neglected protocol at our welcoming ceremony," he said calmly.
The security guards quickly closed in. "You guys are threatening our ceremonies!" George said as he was briskly ushered out.
Kinder Morgan is preparing to triple the capacity of the 60-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline linking Alberta's oilsands to a terminal and tanker port in Burnaby on the west coast of British Columbia. The expansion would bring the pipelines' capacity to about 890,000 barrels of oil per day.
Proponents say Trans Mountain's expansion will bring jobs and growth to Canada's oilpatch and generate millions in tax revenue, while opponents argue the pipeline poses unacceptable risks to B.C.'s coastline, with tanker traffic expected to increase to over a ship per day transiting Vancouver harbour. The Tsleil-Waututh are among nine applicants, including the City of Vancouver and the City of Burnaby, which have filed a legal challenge in B.C.'s Supreme Court of Appeal against Ottawa's approval of the project.
George later told National Observer he couldn't convey all the words he wanted to the audience, but that he felt it was necessary to dissent. "Kinder Morgan has done nothing to indicate to us our waters will be absolutely safe, considering they're going to increase the tankers significantly," he said.
He said when he mentioned ceremonies, he meant Kinder Morgan could have been responsible to the Indigenous people directly affected by the pipeline to "ask permission" to access and gather on the Tsleil-Waututh's traditional territory, and that the company's lack of effort to request permission "shows [Kinder Morgan] sees us as a threat, and disagrees with us."
He said the expansion would threaten the culture he shares with his son, who is now of school age. "I've taken my son from ten months old til now — he's seven years old — I take him to the water and show him how to harvest crab. It's a ceremony when I teach him."
"It's hard not to get offended at times. I see people are recognizing First Nations issues through the history of what has happened to our people. I see a lot of hard work has gone into this, but there's always room for improvement, especially when it comes to projects like these."
Speaking to the audience, Anderson asserted the time for "selling" and "defending" the pipeline to the public was over.
The company stated in an email to National Observer that it accepts that "not everyone" is on board with the project.
"We support the right to peacefully and lawfully express opinions and views about our Project. We deeply respect Indigenous rights and title in Canada and the approvals granted for the Project followed many years of engagement and consultation with communities, Indigenous groups and individuals. We have support from First Nations communities whose reserves we intend to cross."
"Having said that, we understand that not everyone will support our Project. But, we're confident we will build and operate this Project in a way that respects the values and priorities of Canadians and in respect of the environment."