Vernon activist recounts pipeline protest

Vernon’s Bill Darnell opposes the federal government’s recent $4.5 billion deal with Kinder Morgan.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the Trudeau government has made a $4.5-billion deal with Kinder Morgan to buy the Trans Mountain Expansion and complete it under a Crown corporation.

This is the largest government intervention since 2009 joined the Ontario provincial government to keep Chrysler and General Motors afloat.

The news broke Tuesday, just two days before Kinder Morgan’s deadline for backing out of the project — the company announced on April 8 that it would suspend all “non-essential” spending until an agreement with the B.C. government was reached by May 31.

“It reflects how deeply fossil fuels are in our present culture and society and really shows how difficult it is to make the necessary changes,” says activist Bill Darnell. “We’ll have to make changes soon one way or the other and it can either be in the rational, graceful way or the difficult way that means a lot of people are going to suffer as the climate just keeps warming up.”

Darnell is a Vernon local who has been an environmental activist for over four decades. He joined pipeline protesters at Burnaby Mountain on April 28, where he was almost arrested.

Related: Trans Mountain pipeline: Politics run deep

Related: Liberal government to buy Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5B

In March, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted Kinder Morgan an injunction aimed at preventing protesters from coming within five metres of their work sites — Burnaby Mountain was one. So, when Darnell made the decision to travel from Vernon to Burnaby to protest, he says he went with the intention of defying the injunction but avoiding arrest.

“It was an awful day and it was pouring rain the entire time,” Darnell said, reflecting on his recent trip. “But, there was still probably 50 or 60 of us that defied the injunction that day.”

Protesters march towards the Kinder Morgan injunction line at Burnaby Mountain. (Bill Darnell/ For the Morning Star)

He said he arrived at about 8 a.m. on the morning of April 28. Protesters were then informed on how to act, what to say and had all their questions answered. Then, he said, they made their way to the watch-house of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. While some Indigenous nations have signed agreements supporting the project, many more — including the Tsleil-Waututh First Nations — are opposed, citing endangerment of their environmental and land rights.

“We wanted them to know we were coming with respect and that we respect an acknowledge that it’s their territory,” explained Darnell.

Related: Trans Mountain pipeline: First Nations remain divided

Protesters were separated into four groups, each carrying large yellow banners as they walked along service road towards the Kinder Morgan gates.

“I was in the first group and we were right against the fence,” Darnell told the Morning Star. “It was at the entrance of the gate so they’re more serious about it. I had not planned to get arrested this time.”

Volunteers wearing high-visibility vests are permitted by the police to go back and forth between the injunction line. Everyone else is supposed to obey the court order.

He says that after a few hours, RCMP arrived and read the entire 12-page injunction order. They then give protesters time to consider leaving the site. An hour later, officers returned. Darnell said they didn’t ask them to leave but rather ask if there’s anything they can do to convince protesters to leave on their own accord. Darnell was first in line which meant he was approached first. He told them no in response, so the officers explained that he was being arrested.

Seeing he didn’t want to be arrested, he says a volunteer wearing one of the high visibility vests stepped in. The police accepted this as his recant and allowed Darnell to walk away from the injunction line freely.

“There were claps and cheers and it was pretty powerful to be acknowledged like that because I’ve been doing this work for a long time — all the way from nuclear weapons testings back in the ‘70s,” said Darnell. “Often you feel that you’re sort of a lone voice or a minority in the circumstance because you try and shift the frame and change public opinion but when you’re among a group of people who all understand and are supportive and are very appreciative and thank you for [protesting], it’s a pretty amazing feeling.”

Related: Vernon group protests Kinder Morgan

Protests like this have continued every weekend since Darnell attended last month. After learning that the government has made a deal with Kinder Morgan, he says he’s confident that protests will continue and, with the provincial and Indigenous cases underway, he thinks it’s still unlikely that it’ll be built.

“I think there will be a pause for a moment to figure out what happens now but I don’t think anyone’s giving up,” said Darnell. “I still think it’s not going to get built but there’s going to be a lot more struggle and a lot more people are going to suffer unnecessarily, but I still think we can stop it.”

He says that they’ll be more opportunities to be arrested. He explained that the reason he didn’t want to get arrested this time was that he is visiting his grandchildren in Toronto in September and doesn’t want to have to fly back and forth for court dates. Though, he says that the issue is two-fold. Firstly, he says that the federal government supporting the expansion without the consent of all Indigenous communities will set reconciliation efforts back decades. Secondly, he says, it’s detrimental to the environment. Darnell calls this the grandfather perspective.

“I didn’t want to get arrested but I wanted to defy the injunction to say that I’m opposed to it — both to the world but also to myself,” Darnell added. “I won’t be around for the worst of it but what about my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren?”

He says he’ll continue to protest for them.

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@BrieChar
brieanna.charlebois@vernonmorningstar.com

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