A failed two-day court challenge to an anti-democratic, corporate legal attack is the latest chapter in the 2014 Battle of Burnaby Mountain over the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline expansion project.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled January 14 that stifling Alan Dutton’s right to protest was not the primary purpose of a multi-million-dollar civil suit and, therefore, his application for a summary dismissal of the case was denied. In an unexpected additional blow, he was ordered to pay the company’s costs for the action.
As revealed in an wide-ranging interview with the Vancouver Sun, the setback has left Dutton unbowed.
A retired academic and active member of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan (BROKE), Dutton has indeed been an active protester in the anti-pipeline battle. His challenge sought judicial recognition that he became a victim of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) when he and four other defendants were sued October 30 by KM.
With the support of fellow BROKE members Dutton filed his mid-December application for a summary judgment to include dismissal of Kinder Morgan’s damage claims and an “Order for special costs payable by the Plaintiff to the Defendant.”
In its suit, the energy giant accuses the defendants of conspiracy to commit illegal acts of trespass, nuisance, assault, intimidation and intentional interference with contractual relations. Their acts, the claim says, resulted in “unlawful interference” with “field studies” required by the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of the expansion project.
A related Kinder Morgan court document projects that each month of delay would cost the company $5,643,000 in expenses, as well as $88 million in lost revenues.
Dutton vows to appeal the court’s ruling, if there are grounds to do so. “I never committed any of the alleged conspiracy, assault, trespass, etc.,” he told this writer. “The charges against me were never proved and don’t have to be under the rules the court followed. Those rules disadvantage and silence defendants in the face of huge lawsuits by large corporations.”
Just before Christmas the energy transnational offered to “discontinue” the suit if defendants agreed not to claim costs. That deal was taken by the other four defendants, whose legal expenses had been paid by an enthusiastic public response to an on-line crowdfunding appeal.
Now, it is not so clear the deal actually settled the suit. A lawyer to two of those defendants barged into the Dutton hearing and was finally permitted to address the court. He expressed his clients’ unease that a discontinuance of the lawsuit was not as final as a dismissal and left them open to further action.
Dutton declined Kinder Morgan’s deal in order to fight the suppression of free speech and freedom of assembly, which he sees as the SLAPP suit’s real goal.
“The issue here is our democracy and the fundamental right to protest,” Dutton told the Burnaby NOW. “It’s to show people we can fight big multinational corporations, and we can be successful.”
On the first morning of Dutton’s application hearing, B.C. Civil Liberties Association Executive Director Josh Paterson, held a press conference with Dutton’s lawyer Neil Chantler. Paterson told reporters that Dutton “is basically making the argument that the reason for which this lawsuit is brought is actually improper and was to shut down people’s lawful and democratic expression.” The BCCLA also put out an “advisory” on the case.
Hoping his action would discourage future SLAPP suits and help bring anti-SLAPP legislation back to B.C., Dutton accepted that he could face growing legal expenses. Crowd-funding and other donations had covered most of his legal costs before this week’s hearing. But this challenge and the court’s unexpected turn-about on awarding costs have added thousands more in legal expenses.*
Kinder Morgan ‘s suit came after a two-and-a-half year battle against its plan to “twin” a 60-year-old pipeline not designed for, but now carrying, tar sands diluted bitumen through Burnaby to a supertanker marine terminal on the municipality’s northern border.
Kinder Morgan ‘s latest revision to the intended route for the “twinned” pipeline has it tunneling under Burnaby Mountain, home of SFU and of a large municipal conservation area.
Kinder Morgan ‘s expansion project would triple the bitumen being piped through suburban Burnaby to nearly 900,000 barrels per day. It would also triple — to five million barrels — the storage capacity of a tank farm on the side of Burnaby Mountain (uphill from residential neighbourhoods, schools, parks, etc.). And it would increase seven-fold, to 400 loads a year, the super-tanker traffic under two bridges across the narrow, busy Burrard Inlet, which is flanked by Vancouver and four other cities in addition to Burnaby.
Opposition to the project has centred on concerns about climate change, as well as about spills on land (already happened) and water, toxic fumes from the marine terminal and tank farm, fire and leaks from the latter (with no response plan in place), and earthquakes affecting the tunneled pipeline section.
Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Kennedy Stewart has been a steady, engaged and persuasive voice against the Kinder Morgan expansion, while Burnaby North Liberal MLA Richard T. Lee has been living on another planet.
Burnaby Mayor Derrick Corrigan and his entire city council have held and attended several public meetings explaining their objections in detail.
In addition, the city fought several losing court battles to stop Kinder Morgan work on Burnaby Mountain. Those activities resulted in a September opinion poll that revealed an astonishing 93 per cent of citizens were aware of the Kinder Morgan expansion project and 68 per cent of those were opposed. Affirming this result was Corrigan’s November 15 re-election to a fifth term with 68.5 per cent of the vote and a three-peat of his party’s sweep of council seats.
BROKE, through holding community meetings and rallies and through its website, has worked diligently to educate and mobilize the community against the project since it announcement in 2012.
This past summer and fall, another small group calling themselves “caretakers” came together on the mountain to provide vigilant patrols of areas where Kinder Morgan crews were expected to work. As the fall unfolded, another layer of “land defenders” formed around the “caretaker” nucleus.
In late October, some protestors came into confrontation with a crew of contractors hired by Kinder Morgan to do work at several sites on and around Burnaby Mountain. This led with startling rapidity to the lawsuit and an application to B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction barring protesters from several areas on and around the mountain.
That injunction, which the B.C. Supreme Court did grant, gave birth to a pair of 24/7 work camps ringed by police. It also drew hundreds of protesters to the mountain day after day. Between November 19 and 27, over 100 people “crossed the line” into no-go zones ordered by the court and were arrested, only to have their contempt-of-court charges thrown out when Kinder Morgan revealed it had given the court the wrong GPS coordinates to designate the no-go zones.
Meanwhile, various other constitutional and procedural challenges to the Kinder Morgan project and to the NEB review process of it have been launched by the City of Vancouver, by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, by a citizens group and by Robyn Allan, an economist and former president and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of BC who has become a formidable anti-pipeline crusader.
Dutton pledges to continuing the fight and is still committed to new anti-SLAPP-suit laws, “a fight both the BCCLA and West Coast Environmental Law have indicated they would support,” he said.
Gene McGuckin is a resident of Burnaby who worked for 29 years in a Burnaby paper recycling mill. He is a member or BROKE and of the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group.
*In an email to this writer Dutton emphasized that a new fundraising effort is underway, again primarily through crowd-funding.