This week saw some important victories on Burnaby Mountain with Kinder Morgan halted in their destruction, for now. But there is so much money at stake that the likelihood that they will rise from the dead to do more harm should not be ignored.
Environmental defenders scored big this week: The charges against almost 100 protesters for supposedly violating Kinder Morgan’s injunction on Burnaby Mountain were tossed out in B.C. Supreme Court. It seems the bright lights at Kinder Morgan couldn’t get their GPS coordinates right, leading to confusion about where the injunction zone actually was. At the same time, Kinder Morgan’s application to continue work beyond December 1 was denied. As of this writing, they are beginning to pull out.
These are good developments to be sure, but ones that have to be viewed with some caveats about what they do, and don’t, mean for the future. Also, there were lessons learned over the last few weeks that will stand us all in good stead in the pipeline battles ahead.
First, the court decisions don’t mean, as touted in various media sources, that the “courts actually work”. The reality is that the courts usually work for those who control the courts. In this case, KM’s idiot mistakes were too much even for a court that wanted to be sympathetic to the company to bear. It was a lucky break for Burnaby Mountain and for its defenders, but one we shouldn’t count on in the future. The mechanisms of injunction and SLAPP lawsuits still exist and will be used again. Let’s not get complacent about this. This was a tactical respite, not a full victory, the latter only happening when Kinder Morgan goes home.
Second, it was dumb mistakes by the company that lead to these outcomes, not a sudden re-discovery of Canadian Charter rights by the court. Rights are not really rights if they can be taken away, as they were a week ago, and then latter put back when the company messes up. Such “rights” are actually really privileges to be given or withdrawn at whim. Those of us who are white, middle class, etc. typically enjoy the privileges that come with such “rights,” but we are mistaken if we view them as anything durable and actually protected by the Charter. Most of those at Eagleridge [bluffs protest, in defiance of Sea-to-sky highway expansion for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, –ed], mostly relatively wealthy, white homeowners, folks who called the police chief by his first name, rapidly discovered just how transient their “rights” actually were. Indeed, the shock on their faces when they discovered that their Charter “rights” were equal to those living in the DTES was quite something to behold. Needless to say, those who don’t enjoy white, middle-class privilege have known this all along and are hardly fooled by the democratic illusions fostered by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or by those who trumpet the power of the latter.
Next, Kinder Morgan will be back. Just like zombies that won’t stay dead, the scent of money will resurrect them. It ain’t over, not by a long shot. Hence, the next stage will be to focus on Kinder Morgan’s operations overall, their other locations around Vancouver, and any legal vulnerabilities that can be found. We have to get inside their “decision cycle” and keep them on their back foot at all times. It’s too bad tar and feathering is not do-able, but we still need out of here, even without the feathering. This means out of Burnaby Mountain, out of B.C. and out of Canada. Getting them out may take some effort and creativity, but once done we can let their fellow Texans deal with them.
Finally, we may never know what factors, apart from the mistakes of Kinder Morgan, actually led to the court’s decisions. One big part may well have been the recognition of the growing alliance of disparate groups that had begun converging on the mountain. The powers that be likely realized that the protest was going to get a lot more diverse and thus much bigger…and more difficult to control. The take home lesson for us is this: Allies are good, even if only of the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort. Eagleridge didn’t have these, apart from Betty Krazwyk and Harriet Nahanne (who both went to jail for their defiance), and thus the nice local folk who thought they could simply demand their rights and win got their butts hauled off the Bluffs. Not so Burnaby Mountain, at least not in the end.
We have to start realizing that not everyone who wants to stop Kinder Morgan here or the Northern Gateway has the same social or political views, history, or class consciousness, etc. Small “l” liberals can serve as allies, too. There will be ample opportunity to explain white privilege and the illusion of Charter rights at the next blockade to those not yet up to speed.
We on the “left” are used to losing. It is thus heartening to win one, and an important one at that. The final lesson is this: We can win, we just have to keep up the pressure…and fight together.