BURNABY, B.C. – Anti-pipeline activists camped out on a mountain near Vancouver clashed with police Thursday, as the RCMP enforced a court injunction ordering protesters to clear an encampment and allow work related to a proposed expansion project by Kinder Morgan.
Protesters had set up makeshift encampments blocking work crews from two sites on Burnaby Mountain, where Kinder Morgan has been conducting survey work related to its proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. The company obtained a court injunction, which took effect this past Monday.
Officers made their first arrests Thursday morning, loading protesters into a police wagon and cordoning off the roadside encampment with police tape. Hours of relative calm followed, until officers lined up shoulder to shoulder to move the crowd to a designated “protest zone” about 100 metres away.
An officer used a loudspeaker to warn protesters to move; when they didn’t, the line of Mounties moved in short bursts to force the protesters back. Each time, scuffles broke out.
A middle-aged female who was in front of the line was tossed to the ground behind police and was quickly arrested.
“Hey, that’s violence,” a protester yelled at police as the woman slammed onto the road.
Protesters yelled obscenities and could be seen spitting at the officers. At one point someone threw a cardboard box into the police line.
The RCMP said on Twitter that 26 people were arrested and that five remained in custody Thursday evening.
Police said many of those arrested were cited for civil contempt and released on the condition that they no longer interfere, obstruct or impede survey crews.
The RCMP said it would leave the dismantling of the protesters’ camp to Kinder Morgan. Personal belongings will be catalogued and stored inside a security container and access to those items will be determined later, police said.
One of the arrested protesters, who identified himself only by his first name, Mike, said he and the other activists were processed at a nearby golf course, where the RCMP had set up a tent. He said he was released after agreeing not to return to the protest site.
“But I’m not following that,” he said, as he walked up a road toward the protest.
Mike said getting arrested was worth taking a stand against the pipeline.
“Someone needs to take part in action,” he said. “The more people that care about the issues, the more we can affect change.”
At a separate site farther into the woods, the RCMP removed a protester who was perched far up a tree.
A crew with Kinder Morgan arrived several hours after the first arrests. Some of the workers had small video cameras strapped to their bodies. They took measurements as protesters shouted at them to stop.
A ceremonial First Nations’ fire remained burning throughout the day. A pair of RCMP officers sat down and spoke to a group of women who were tending the fire in the afternoon.
“We are in discussions with First Nations on how to respectfully remove a sacred fire and totem pole that remain inside the zone in contravention of the order,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Maj. John Buis.
Burnaby Mountain has emerged as a battleground because Kinder Morgan’s preferred route for the expanded pipeline, which would triple capacity to transport Alberta crude to a terminal in Burnaby, would tunnel through the mountain.
The company has said it needs to drill two bore holes on the mountain, which is home to a conservation area and Simon Fraser University, as it prepares for the federal approval process.
The City of Burnaby has also filed a lawsuit to prevent Kinder Morgan from cutting down trees and damaging parkland.
Kinder Morgan issued a written statement confirming the survey work had resumed.
“Trans Mountain is pleased that the majority of the individuals occupying the area complied with the order and continue to exercise their rights to express their views in a respectful manner, while allowing our team to begin the work safely,” the statement said.
Protester Maryam Adrangi said that whatever happens with the injunction, the pipeline’s opponents won’t be stopped.
“People have been organizing around this (pipeline) for even longer than this camp has been here, so to say that it’s just going to end in one day, I don’t believe it.”
Opponents of the pipeline have said the expansion would increase the risk of a devastating spill because of the increase in the amount of oil through the pipeline and the added tanker traffic in Vancouver’s harbour.
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— With files from Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver