Trans Mountain says it was trying to ensure “safe construction” when it removed a peaceful protest site in December along its pipeline route in the Vancouver area.

The company is currently working on a section of its oil pipeline expansion project that will bring petroleum products north of the Fraser River through Coquitlam and Burnaby, reaching a series of storage tanks before tunnelling through Burnaby Mountain to a marine terminal on Vancouver’s central harbour.

In order to build the pipeline through the area, it needs to first cut down many trees — over 1,300 of them, according to a plan prepared for a Trans Mountain contractor that has been working on the Lower Mainland section of the project.

Some of these trees are in an area near the Brunette River, between the Trans-Canada Highway and the BNSF Railway, that Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Tim Takaro says are surrounding two environmentally sensitive streams.

Feeling compelled by his professional obligations to protect Canadians, Takaro and a group of supporters had been blocking Trans Mountain from cutting down trees in that area.

On Dec. 9, 2020, their protest site was “demolished,” according to a court filing Takaro has made. Takaro and supporters have since moved to another location nearby.

March 3 court date set

In a statement sent to Canada’s National Observer on Wednesday, Trans Mountain says it “respects the right to peaceful, lawful expressions of opinions.”

At the same time, the company is relying on the use of a 2018 B.C. injunction order that allows police to arrest or detain anyone obstructing access to Trans Mountain’s work sites.

“To ensure safe construction, Trans Mountain needed to move into the Brunette River area to begin site preparation,” the company said in response to questions about its involvement in the Dec. 9 removal of the protest site.

The company also reiterated that the injunction was in place, that the pipeline expansion route has been approved by Canada’s federal regulator, that it was on “privately owned lands,” and that it had secured an agreement with the landowner.

Trans Mountain says it was trying to ensure “safe construction” when it removed a peaceful protest site in December along its pipeline route in Burnaby.

Takaro, who said he was read the injunction order on Dec. 9 and told to leave the area, is now challenging the order in B.C. Supreme Court on the grounds that there was not enough consideration of the pipeline’s climate impact.

His lawyer Martin Peters confirmed the court date is set for March 3, and he expected to proceed on that date.

Takaro also stated in the affidavit that officials representing Trans Mountain were accompanied by authorities working for the railway when they arrived to kick him and his supporters off the protest site in December.

Courtney Wallace, a spokesperson for BNSF Railway, said the protest site removal was “handled by Trans Mountain and their contractors.”

She acknowledged BNSF police were present, but said they had “minimal involvement,” limited to reading the junction to the assembled group of protesters.

'Trees give us so much'

The Burnaby tree management plan prepared for Kiewit-Ledcor Trans Mountain Partnership, the pipeline company contractor, stated that “an approximated total of 1,308 trees will be removed to accommodate (Trans Mountain) construction activities.”

Trans Mountain was given permission to cut the trees without obtaining permits from the City of Burnaby thanks to a Feb. 3 order from the Canada Energy Regulator.

The Facebook group 1308 Trees has been started to organize opposition to the tree-cutting. “Trees give us so much: fresh air, calm, bird habitat, peace and more! What do we offer them in return?” the group says on its page.

“We believe that (Trans Mountain) can be stopped — and these trees should be spared!”

Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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As a Canadian, an ecologist, an elder, a father and grandfather I am very disturbed that the Government of Canada and the pipeline company it owns disrespects and disregards local government authority, ecosystem impacts and economic reality in pushing through the TMX project.