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Pipeline protesters defiant, as mayor promises crackdown on Camp Cloud

Derek Corrigan says the city will go to court, if necessary, to bring camp under control
Johnny Lee
Johnny Lee stands in front of a carver's cabin he is building at Camp Cloud.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan is vowing to crack down on a pipeline protest camp he says has overstepped its bounds.

Since November 2017, Camp Cloud has grown from a single trailer to an elaborate encampment of tents and wood structures providing homes, a kitchen, a shower and a safe space for opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. 

And the encampment continues to grow, as protesters erect a two-storey carver’s cabin on the side of Shellmont Street near the entrance to Kinder Morgan’s tank farm on Burnaby Mountain.

Corrigan said the camp has refused to comply with informal requests from the city to snuff out a ceremonial fire and cease construction of permanent structures.

“There’s been virtually no effort to comply,” he said. “This has gone far beyond simply peaceful protest to a point where people in the community, justifiably, have had enough.”

In May, residents of the surrounding Forest Grove neighbourhood presented a petition at a council meeting asking the city to remove the camp. The 175 signatories complained about Camp Cloud’s effect on traffic and potential safety hazards.

In recent weeks, several locals have written to the NOW complaining about the camp, including Carolyn Carpenter and Duke Shoebotham. The couple said they fear the camp will remain “long after the current political problems are solved.”

“This encampment certainly has the appearance of a homeless camp,” the couple wrote. “We want action taken to make our community safe and beautiful once again.” 

Corrigan is seeking legal advice on how to deal with the situation. The court injunction meant to prevent protesters from interfering with work on the pipeline allows for Camp Cloud and the nearby Watch House to remain. 

Corrigan said it’s not clear what powers the city has to enforce its bylaws, but he is willing to go to court.

“I don’t think we’re prepared to tolerate the present situation there any longer,” he said.

But campers are digging in and building up, despite the new rhetoric from city hall.

Johnny Lee, a Nehiyaw Cree man from Edmonton, said he is leading the construction of the carver’s cabin, which will allow a First Nations artist to create a totem pole. 

The building will include a loft and a deck on its roof, which will act as a stage for concerts and may include a screen for movie nights and karaoke, Lee said. 

He said discussions with representatives of the City of Burnaby who have visited the camp have been cordial, but he has flatly refused to comply with their requests.

“They give us trouble about a carver’s cabin because we don’t have a permit?” he asked. “We’ve got to pay the system for us to live our lives and build our own shelters and whatnot? No, I don’t think so.”

He also said the fire that burns continuously in the camp won’t be snuffed out, despite a fire department request.

“That sacred fire isn’t going out for nobody unless our matriarch says so,” Lee said.

Lee said most neighbourhood residents he has spoken to have been supportive, while others have hurled verbal abuse.

“I’m not particularly happy with them being here,” said Lee. “How many centuries of colonization and raping of the land and the oppression of the Indigenous people (has there been)? To those people, I say, ‘tough luck’”

Corrigan said the attitude at Camp Cloud stands in stark contrast to the Watch House a few hundred metres away. The cedar longhouse was built in the nearby woods in March under the leadership of Will George.

George said he complied when the city asked him to extinguish his own ceremonial fire and he is under strict orders from his Tslei-Waututh elders to hold his protest in a “peaceful way.”

George said he would not comment on the different approaches at the two camps. 

“In no way will I show divide,” he said.

The Burnaby RCMP’s operations officer, Supt. Chuck McDonald, said there have been few calls to the Watch House, while there have been more incidents at Camp Cloud, including mischief and an assault on a police officer.

“I don’t know if I want to compare the two (camps),” he said. “I prefer that people draw their own conclusions about the difference between the two.“