Protesters around Vancouver held duelling rallies on Saturday, some welcoming Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project with others decrying it.
Several hundred pro-pipeliners, including a bus load of Albertans, gathered downtown to show support for the resources infrastructure — just hours after First Nation leaders marched with thousands of anti-pipeline activists in Burnaby, B.C.
The Indigenous leaders beat drums and sang out against the project, saying they wouldn’t step aside for construction.
Rueben George, of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, told thousands of protesters that it will take more rallies and protests to stop the project, which is set to increase the flow of oil products to 890,000 barrels up from 300,000 barrels per day.
“It’s going to take gatherings such as this … (to) make sure the environment is not laid to waste and taken away from future generations. This is what we stand for today,” George said, speaking by megaphone to the crowd gathered outside Burnaby’s Lake City Way Skytrain station.
The Tsleil-Waututh are among six First Nations that filed a court challenge to the project last fall, along with the City of Burnaby and City of Vancouver.
The protest was led by elders and spiritual leaders from Coast Salish Nations and many other Indigenous peoples, with support from environmental and grassroots organizers.
Protesters marched toward a traditional “watch house” they were building at Burnaby Mountain to oversee work by Kinder Morgan.
George explained that Coast Salish First Nations would traditionally build a watch house, or “Kwekwecnewtxw,” to watch for enemies. He said the environmental threat posed by the pipeline expansion constitutes such an enemy.
Squamish First Nation elder Robert Nahanee said expanding the pipeline will only add more pollution to the coast where he grew up.
“My family was food gatherers. We gathered clams, crabs, oysters fish — everything. That’s how I grew up. Now we can’t even do that,” Nahanee said. “We need to stand up and hear our voices. My voice is: O, Canada, you’re on native land.”
At the sparser pro-pipeline rally, people spoke about fighting the “greenies” and crowd members shouted out phrases like, “mitigate risk.”
Stewart Muir, who spoke in favour of the $7.4-billion project as executive director for the Resource Works Society, said it doesn’t have to be a decision between the environment and economy.
“Canada can have both. We can have the environment protected and respected and we can have the economic benefits that will allow Canada to be in future what it has been in the past,” Muir said.
Bernard Hancock, who works on a service rig and grew up in North Vancouver, said Canadians need jobs to support their families and save for retirement.
“The oil patch provides good paying work. It’s the only thing that ever paid me,” Hancock said.
Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary for the minister of environment and climate change, issued a statement Saturday saying he has come to support the project. He said the federal government is protecting the coast with its $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan and has consulted 118 potentially affected Indigenous groups on the project.
“The fact is, the Kinder Morgan pipeline already exists — it has been delivering oil to the port of Vancouver safely for over 60 years, and carrying diluted bitumen for three decades. This project would simply add capacity to the existing pipeline, and we’ve set 157 binding conditions to ensure it can be constructed and operated safely,” Wilkinson said.
On Friday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted Kinder Morgan an interim injunction aimed at preventing anti-pipeline activists from protesting construction at two terminals in Burnaby.
The injunction restricts protesters from coming within 50 metres of the facilities until Wednesday, when a hearing on the matter will continue.