Energy giant Kinder Morgan has filed an injunction against anti-pipeline activists protesting the company's pipeline construction work in Burnaby, B.C. The hearing is at 10 a.m. Friday at the British Columbia Supreme Court.
According to Earle Peach, one of the individuals named in the injunction, there are 15 people specifically named by the injunction. They are protesting Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which has faced years-long opposition from certain First Nations groups, the City of Burnaby, the City of Vancouver, and the B.C. government. The lawsuit also lists “John Doe” and “Jane Doe”, which according to environmental group Stand, would imply that any member of the public now risks arrest by coming within 50 metres of Kinder Morgan facilities.
The pipeline expansion project, if built, would triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to carry up to 890,000 barrels of petroleum products including diluted bitumen from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. Proponents of the project say thousands of direct and indirect jobs and millions in tax revenue would be created by the project, but the project has been met with significant opposition in parts of B.C. due to factors such as a nearly seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic to the Burrard Inlet.
The injunction says it seeks remedies including "an injunction, including an interim injunction" to stop people from "obstructing roads that Trans Mountain requires" to access certain construction sites. Kinder Morgan is also reportedly seeking damages.
Peach, a spokesperson for a small local citizen group called the Justin Trudeau Brigade, said the group was still discussing how to respond, but said they didn't intend to stop their activism. He said his group and another group, Camp Cloud, had members named in the injunction.
"I suspect however we can we will oppose this project until the end...we will take the injunction in stride and respond accordingly."
He said the group was opposed to the Trans Mountain project for environmental reasons, and that it represented the views of many in Vancouver and Burnaby.
"We're opposing the destruction of beautiful landscapes and the imposition of unacceptable risk to local populations in the name of a dying industry," Peach said. "We're representing the opinion of the majority of residents of Vancouver and Burnaby."
Kinder Morgan has been asked for a comment but did not respond in time for publication.
Meanwhile, a First Nations-led protests against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is slated to take place in Burnaby on Saturday, and is expected to draw thousands of demonstrators.
“Kinder Morgan’s action is an obvious SLAPP lawsuit designed to intimidate everyday citizens and stop people from speaking out against its dirty pipeline expansion,” said Karen Mahon, a campaign director for Stand. “This lawsuit tries to prevent someone from so much as standing on the side of the road and holding a sign.”
"When an injunction is granted by the court, protesters are arrested for criminal contempt of court, rather than for civil disobedience. They have no defence possible in court, and are not given a chance to make their case in front of a jury. The sentences are often much harsher, not to mention having a criminal record," said Monika Marcovici, executive director of Board of Change, a business network that supports sustainability equally with the pursuit of profit.
In 2014, Kinder Morgan also sued citizen activists including SFU molecular biologist and former Green Party candidate Lynne Quarmby. That year, the Supreme Court rejected Kinder Morgan's request to extend the injunction date against activists and threw out charges of civil contempt for protesters arrested in the 2014 protests against the pipeline expansion.
"It was a really, really scary experience," Quarmby told National Observer on Friday. "The only reason it was thrown out by the Supreme Court was because Kinder Morgan had their GPS coordinates wrong, so it meant none of us had violated the terms of the injunction. They wanted to make examples of us."
She said she willingly protested and took the risk of being arrested, but that she had the "privilege" of a good job and support from her friends, and that other people may be more vulnerable in her situation.
She said she suspects the injunction was in anticipation of a large protest planned for Burnaby on Saturday.
"The timing, I think, is in anticipation of Saturday's big rally," she said. "It's to intimidate all the people planning to come out. This is an attempt to keep the numbers down for tomorrow's demonstration. I'm telling people to let this be a reason to come out."
BC Attorney General David Eby, who recently announced that the BC NDP was going to re-introduce anti-SLAPP legislation that did not pass during the BC Liberal administration, said he believes British Columbians must have the right to express their views on matters of public interest without fear of lawsuits.
“British Columbians should have the right to participate freely in public discourse without fear of retribution. Our government is committed to playing a strong role in protecting the rights of freedom of speech and expression for British Columbians. Part of that is to protect freedom of expression in public debate against lawsuits that have the effect of limiting or preventing expression on matters of public interest," he said in an email to National Observer.
“I cannot speculate on the details of the Kinder Morgan court injunction and whether anti-SLAPP legislation would have played a role in this ongoing lawsuit. We are working to develop legislation to encourage public expression on matters of public interest, and to reduce the risk that expression will be hampered by fear of legal action.”
Editor's note: this story was updated on March 12, 1:27 PT with a comment from Attorney General David Eby.
With files from Jenny Uechi