Patricia White will be appearing in court in Vancouver on June 15.
The North Shuswap grandmother doesn’t look particularly nefarious, but she was one of about 60 people arrested on March 24 in Burnaby.
White was protesting the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. To do so, she defied an injunction prohibiting people from being within five metres of a gate to Kinder Morgan terminals where the company’s equipment travels in and out.
Why does she feel strongly enough to be arrested?
“I’m a grandmother. I’ve been educating myself about the extraction industry in general, including the tar sands, which is where bitumen is coming from. There’s no need for it, we have clean energy technology, it goes through indigenous non-treaty lands, it doesn’t have their permission to go through their lands, it’s disrespectful in that way.”
She says the protest is being led by First Nations, as it should be, and the protesters are referred to as water protectors.
“Everybody doing it believes that we must protect the water, land and air.”
White also refers to company ‘man camps,’ which she says can hold 1,000 men within chain-link fenced areas in trailers, typically in remote areas where the pipeline is being built.
White contends they bring sex assaults, drugs and alcohol, but don’t bring any of the promised financial benefits to the communities.
She’s generally opposed to all extraction industry that’s going ahead without any consultation with the people in the areas that it’s affecting.
“I don’t see these extraction industries are really benefiting the local populations; they seem to be benefiting already-rich corporations. And I’m opposed to our RCMP being paid to protect a private company instead of the people.”
“I could go on and on,” she says. “There are so many variations on this theme that have to do with the Site C dam, that have to do with fracking, that have to do with clear-cut logging, that have to do with polluting our Shuswap Lake, you know. We really, really have to slow down and get sensible about the way we’re approaching the future.
“Our kids – there are so many children now with illnesses that we didn’t see when my children were little. They have all kinds of allergies and diabetes and cancer. They’re just not healthy anymore the way children used to be. This is the reality. All these ideas that we’re supposed to run for the cure or look for the cure. All of this is just such backward thinking because we have to remove the cause. And the cause is our environment being so poisoned.”
White describes herself as an activist and explains she was contacted via email with a request for support.
She says the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, together with organizations such as the Dogwood Initiative, Greenpeace, 350.org and Stand.earth used their combined mailing lists to ask if anyone would be willing to occupy the area in front of the gate, as part of the ongoing movement to stop the pipeline.
White communicated her willingness and a date she could attend – and away she went.
She says everything was extremely well-organized, with people being set up to attend on specific dates according to whether they were First Nations, youths, senior citizens, and other groupings.
When they arrived, they were given a two-hour training session and given clear instructions on how to proceed with the occupation.
“The whole point of it was non-violence,” she says. “And they gave us an indication of what to do if anyone else was acting violently.”
At the end of the training, organizers asked people to think about whether they would be willing to be arrested. People were eventually separated into those who thought they would be willing and those who wouldn’t, she says, emphasizing that people were given the option to back out right to the end.
Then they were put into lines of 10, with those who were willing to be arrested right in front of the gates and those who weren’t, behind the five-metre mark.
“It was snowing like crazy, very wet snow coming down, and freezing cold. Nobody stopped, everybody was completely committed on their own.
White says the organizers were very considerate, asking the seniors if they wanted to be arrested first so they wouldn’t have to stand out in the snow. White liked that idea, and was in the second line of people who were arrested.
She said the RCMP were also thoughtful, first reading the lengthy injunction and then asking each individual if, now that they completely understood the document, did they still want to be arrested? If they didn’t, they had the option to leave.
“Being arrested was definitely a choice – are you willing to break the law to protect the water.”
When it was her turn, White was walked down to where the RCMP had set up white tents to process everyone.
“I was surrounded by four large RCMP, which I thought was a waste of taxpayers’ money. Because I went willingly, I don’t think they needed that amount of enforcement.”
White signed papers, showed ID, was given a court date and released.
Asked about the accusation that people’s opposition to the pipeline is being sparked by large U.S. based environmental organizations, she uses her first expletive.
“That is just such crap,” she says, emphasizing she didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t personally committed.
“This is a real individual thing. I just feel compelled and so I do.”
White has been asked about her non-stop activism – what if she doesn’t win?
“I say, you know what, I win every day because I try. When I go to bed at night I know I did something to try, so I won.”