News story of the year: Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion

If there’s one fight that captured our readers’ attention this year, it was the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and the city’s battle with the company on Burnaby Mountain.

Local opposition to the proposed pipeline has been fierce, with pipeline opponents raising concerns about oil spills, tanker traffic and climate change.

It’s no secret Mayor Derek Corrigan and council are against the pipeline expansion anywhere in Burnaby, but when Kinder Morgan started survey work for a proposed pipeline route through a city-owned conservation area, Burnaby fired back with stop work orders and fines for violating a local bylaw that prohibits cutting trees in public parks.

Kinder Morgan then went to the National Energy Board, which issued an order directing the city to back off. That’s when hundreds of residents from Burnaby and beyond descended on the mountain. When Kinder Morgan showed up for work, protesters drove their contractors away, some shouting foul language, and one young chap chained himself to the underside of a work vehicle.

This time, Kinder Morgan went to the B.C. Supreme Court, asking for an injunction. The company’s lawyers were arguing that people’s facial expressions constituted assault, and although there may be legal merit to that argument, the public found it absurd. People posted selfies of their menacing “Kinder Morgan faces” on social media, and the #KMFace Internet meme went viral.

On Nov. 14, the court gave Kinder Morgan its injunction, ordering protesters to stay away or risk arrest. Police arrived on the mountain in larger numbers on Nov. 20, sealed off Centennial Way and set up a no-go zone around Kinder Morgan’s work areas. But that didn’t stop hundreds from gathering on the mountain for what would become a 10-day standoff. In all, 126 people crossed the injunction line, including two 11-year-old girls. The girls were not arrested; they were simply detained and released, but that sparked another controversy over whether their parents should have them cross and adults in general should take their kids to protests. Even Premier Christy Clark chimed in, criticizing the parents for letting their kids break the law, while her detractors quickly pointed out how she ran a stop sign with her kid and a reporter in the car.

Other high-profile appearances on Burnaby Mountain included David Suzuki, who admonished the RCMP for allegedly pulling his grandson across police lines so he could be arrested. Many Burnaby residents were arrested for violating the injunction, including Ruth Walmsley and Peter Cech, father of one of the 11-year-old girls. Both adults are members of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion. SFU professor Lynne Quarmby was also arrested.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also crossed the injunction line on Nov. 27. Dressed in a suit, with red face paint, the First Nations leader stood facing police at the injunction line in the woods, in the thick of a drumming and singing crowd. Phillip slipped under the police tape, and RCMP respectfully took him into custody.

Later that day, news broke that a B.C. Supreme Court threw out all civil contempt charges against the protesters, because Kinder Morgan screwed up the GPS coordinates, which meant no one really knew where the injunction areas were. Protesters followed up with more celebratory gatherings on the mountain.

The Battle on Burnaby Mountain has all the hallmarks of a classic David and Goliath tale, but the central issue is whether a federally appointed body, like the NEB, can override a city’s bylaws. It’s something the courts have yet to rule on, and the city is still pursuing legal action to defend its bylaws. The NEB Act already allows companies like Kinder Morgan to conduct survey work and build pipelines on Crown land and private property without the landowners’ permission, but never before has a city come up against the NEB the way Burnaby has, meaning any court decisions on the matter will be precedent setting and could have implications for other municipalities across the country.

The mayor is spot on when he says this is just Phase 1 of a very long war. We are certain Kinder Morgan will dominate the headlines for 2015 and years to come. If something as simple as survey work led to a 10-day standoff with police and protesters, one can only imagine what will happen if Kinder Morgan actually starts building the pipeline.

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