The unfinished business on Burnaby Mountain

by Bruce Mason

“People won’t die unless someone else kills them,” say critics of the Trudeau Trans Mountain pipeline.

“Shift Shell,” the first protest on Burnaby Mountain, took place five decades ago. As it turns out, more than 1,000 students and faculty, who objected to the construction of a gas station on the campus of the just-built Simon Fraser University (opened in 1965), were oh so right. Prophetically so.

Back in 1966, the protestors, now rightly referred to as protectors, said it obstructed the view, something big oil, including Shell, continues to do today. As well, Shell was deeply involved in abhorrent apartheid in South Africa, which had been modelled on the racism of the Canadian government’s treatment of its indigenous people.

Apartheid is gone, but Reconciliation in Canada is little more than empty words and promises. And isn’t it ironic this protest took place in the late-60s when major oil corporations were becoming painfully aware, as a result of their own research, that continuing to burn fossil fuels would kill the planet?

It is extremely important we keep in mind the pertinent distinctions between ‘to die,’ ‘to kill’ and ‘to live.’

According to David Dodge, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, now a high-profile advisor to Alberta’s Rachel Notley government, “There are some people that are going to die in protesting construction of this pipeline. We have to understand that… Nevertheless, we have to be willing to enforce the law.”

“It’s going to take some fortitude to stand up to fanatics,” he told a recent forum in Edmonton. “We have seen it other places, that equivalent of religious zeal leading to flouting of the law in a way that could lead to death.

“Inevitably, when you get that fanaticism, you’re going to have trouble,” he carried on, before asking Canadians, “Are we collectively as a society willing to allow the fanatics to obstruct the general will of the population?”

“That then turns out to be a real test of whether we actually do believe in the rule of law,” concluded the art-less Dodge, grimly echoing federal Liberal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr’s assurance that he would use military defence and police forces to push this pipeline through.

Both beg a burning question, first posed by Kevin Taft: “Is Rachel Notley [or Justin Trudeau] prepared to have people killed to get this pipeline built?”

That’s important for anyone who is paying attention, anyone well aware the world is slipping into fascism and wary of any early warning signs close to home.

Kevin Taft is one sane voice in the ongoing cross-Canada kerfuffle over fatal enforcement of the rule of law. Taft called Dodge’s shocking comments a “favour” because they have ignited a debate about the accountability of oil barons, profiteering banksters and political puppets.

Taft, former Leader of the Opposition in Alberta and author of the bestselling book Oil’s Deep State (excerpted in the May 2018 issue of Common Ground), asks his fellow Canadians to think about what Dodge’s quote – “There are some people that are going to die…” – really implies. Namely, there are some people that are going to be killed in protesting construction of this pipeline.

Taft admits, “Ten years ago, I thought this pipeline made sense; I don’t any longer.” He also notes, “It certainly protects the interests of oil companies that want to export raw bitumen. But once the thick layers of propaganda are scraped off the over-hyped claims of economic benefits, job creation and environmental protection, it’s not clear this project should proceed.”

Transmountain pipelineThe debate brings to mind another question that most of us have been asked at some point in our lives – “Is this the hill you want to die on?” – first used by the military, when discussing holding a position at all hazards, no matter the cost. The answer requires making critical choices about core values. We can’t die on all of the hills available, especially in our contemporary world, but, occasionally, we can take a first step toward being liberated, to do what we must do.

Indeed, location is everything, as they say. On the same mountain, back in December, 1968, 114 Simon Fraser University students were incarcerated for occupying and barricading the university’s administration offices. There have been many other protests there, such as labour strife and questions of academic freedom, including Robin Mathews’ fight to hire Canadian academics and decolonize our national education system.

Many more diverse protectors are now being arrested daily for protesting on Burnaby Mountain, smack dab on the expanded pipeline route and the site of the tanker farm and marine terminal. They include SFU biochemist Lynne Quarmby, one of the “Kinder Morgan Five,” who were subjected to a strategic but unsuccessful lawsuit, often referred to as a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), brought by the Texas-based oil pipeline company. “I’m going to turn around and walk up this hill and I’m going to be the best citizen I can be,” she reported on why she continues the fight to stop the deeply unpopular and deadly pipeline.

Among other things, Canada’s west coast is the birthplace of Greenpeace. Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with the now international organization, added to the die/kill debate fiasco, saying, “Remember that we’re not fighting each other as individuals, but we’re arguing about what kind of future we want to leave for our kids.”

The existential quicksand, or tarsands, include our failure to act on climate implosion, continuation of our violation of First Nations rights, the deaths from a tank farm fire the Burnaby fire chief has warned is unstoppable, the certain extinction of Orca whales and the unacceptable risk and threat to our homes and ways of life.

Makes you wonder who Dodge’s “extremists and fanatics obstructing the general will of the population” really are.

Former BC premier Christy Clark, who left SFU in disgrace after a scandal involving cheating in student elections, once observed that people in BC were “good at drilling for LNG.” Actually, we’re even better at protest, something else Clark, who dubbed protectors “The Forces of No,” has yet to learn.

Ask yourself some key questions: “Is Burnaby Mountain the hill I want to die on?” Figuratively? Literally? If not there, where? If not now, when?

David Dodge and his lemming-like ilk of fear-mongering profiteers are merchants of death. They are already slowly killing us in their insatiable, greedy lust for money and power. Canadians, who now own this Trans Mountain Black Snake, must advise the filthy rich and fossil fools to stop rolling their stone up the hill.

As Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the promised land.” Do yourself and future generations a favour. Help stop this pipeline.

We are sleep-walking in a world gone mad with corporatism, awakening to the re-birth of fascism. And the ultimate nightmare is the fact that Canadian taxpayers now own part of it.

Go to Burnaby Mountain to protest, protect, witness or get arrested. You are going to die anyway or get “killed.” But, in the meantime, you’ll sleep better for being on the right side of history.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.

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