Growing tensions between residents of the Forest Grove neighbourhood and occupants of the two protest camps outside Trans Mountain’s terminal on Burnaby Mountain came to the surface at city hall on Monday.
Five residents from the neighbourhood came to present a petition with 175 signatures asking council to remove the two camps. They cited concerns with traffic, fire hazards and road blockages, as well as concerns about safety and the protest camp growing into a “homeless camp.”
Darlene Johnston presented the petition on behalf of a neighbourhood group. In her speech, she said she supported the right to protest as long as it was done “in a civilized manner” and demonstrators go home at the end of each day.
She said the more than 200 arrests for protesting at the gates indicated the demonstrators have “many violent tendencies.” (It should be noted that the vast majority of arrests have not been for Criminal Code violations.)
In her presentation, Johnston suggested residents were at risk of rape, bodily harm and theft.
“In September 2017, professional protesters and crisis actors set up a roadside camp with open fires burning across the gates from Shellmont Street,” she said. “This used to be a great place to live: forest trails, clean air, and a place for everyone who felt safe, but not anymore. It has turned into a homeless/protester camp, where you can do whatever you want, wherever you want, because the mayor is against Kinder Morgan and condones these illegal activities.”
Members of both protest camps spoke in response to the presentation.
Will George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation who has been leading the protests at the “watch house” with the Protect the Inlet group, said he too is concerned about safety of the residents of that area, which is why he is protesting the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
“This is why I do this, this is why I sacrifice my life, is to caretake with people that love the land in that immediate neighbourhood there,” he said. “We’re here to protect these people who are right there, opposing this. We care for them too, a great deal.”
Mayor Derek Corrigan interrupted the presentation and asked George to explain the difference between the two protest groups on the mountain.
“The watch house is completely different from the camp that has been there since September,” George said. “We make sure we do this absolutely right. We’re not just milling around. I sacrificed a career of 18 years to go up and be there. I haven’t been home in a month. I’m not just there to be there.”
One man, who was introduced as an elder at Camp Cloud and goes by the name Maathlaatla, said he has been staying at the camp because he cares about the future of the environment.
“I want the previous speaker to come forward and demonstrate that we can drink oil,” he said. “You want to do something? Take care of the land for your grandchildren. Without protecting the water, we cease to exist.”
He also indicated the group does not want to be called protesters because it is “a made-up word for confrontation.” Other residents of the camp have previously told the NOW on several occasions they wanted to be called “water protectors” and “land defenders,” rather than protesters.
In an interview prior to the meeting, Corrigan said he can understand that people who live in Forest Grove may be irritated, but that the city is attempting to balance the right to protest with concerns of residents of Forest Grove.
“On the other hand, the courts have recognized in the Kinder Morgan injunction that there is a right to protest … they’ve protected the Camp Cloud site, and the watch house site,” he told the NOW. “We’re respecting that order, but we want to contain it and restrain it, make sure that it doesn’t go beyond what was authorized by the court.”
Corrigan noted the city had recently installed barriers around Camp Cloud to prevent it from expanding, and asked both groups to stop burning fires during fire season.
“We’ve gone up and had a long talk with people there, about being respectful of the community and the neighbours,” he said. “We’ve had a great deal of success with the watch house being very respectful, but it’s been more difficult with the Camp Cloud people.”
After the meeting, Barbara Spitz, who lives in Forest Grove, said that, while she supports the right to peaceful protest, she doesn’t want to see the camps expand and does not feel safe with them in her neighbourhood.
But after hearing the presentation by the people from the watch house Monday night, she said she’ll consider visiting them to see what their protest is about.
“They are such two separate ways of handling things. That homeless camp that’s there, it’s disgusting,” she said. “I won’t go by myself, but I will go see that watch house.”