About 20 protesters peacefully cleared out two-and-a-half hours after setting up a blockade on a rail line along the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route in Burnaby.
The demonstration, organized by Extinction Rebellion against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, was set up on the railway, near North Road and Highway 1, at 7 a.m. It’s the latest in a series of actions at this location, including a march that shut down traffic along North Road and a months-long, ongoing occupation of a tree in the path of the pipeline.
“Construction has now begun in the Lower Mainland area, and the idea is to resume railway blockade tactics that were going on very successfully before the pandemic shut everything down,” said Zain Haq, a volunteer spokesperson for the blockade. “We’ll be setting up more blockades in the coming weeks and months to oppose the Trans Mountain expansion because all other avenues to oppose the pipeline have failed. So civil disobedience is now the only way.”
CN Police Service, RCMP and Metro Vancouver Transit Police all attended the scene but largely kept a distance from the demonstrators. While demonstrators had come to the railway from the north side of the tracks, where a protest camp is located, police stayed mostly on the south side of the tracks, only approaching briefly at around 9 a.m. to serve the protesters an injunction order from the court, ordering protesters to clear the area.
Protesters told police they only intended to stay until 9:30 a.m., and police returned to their staging area, edging closer to the demonstrators as that deadline drew closer. No action was taken by police, however, as protesters cleared the area, though an officer was seen taking photos of people leaving the scene.
Eric Masuskapoe, a two-spirit Cree person, performed ceremonies at the demonstration, including spreading ground cedar and handing out prayer ties (small pouches with traditional medicines such as tobacco inside).
Masuskapoe said his opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is primarily related to conflicts between Indigenous communities and the Crown corporation.
He pointed to “man camps” – large camps that house workers, such as pipeline construction crews, in remote areas – and their link to increased sexual assaults, harassment and sexually transmitted infections. This particularly affects Indigenous women and two-spirit people, and as someone who identifies as two-spirit, Masuskapoe said the issue hits close to home for him.
Haq said his group’s message to people in the region was that climate scientists have predicted significant effects of climate change in the coming decades, including droughts and famines that could lead to mass starvation in the world.
“And carbon emissions are just going up and up and up, so clearly the NGO method of environmentalism that’s been going on for the past 30 years hasn’t worked,” Haq said. “We need to use the tactics that were deployed by Dr. Martin Luther King and the suffragettes and people who finally realized that reform and petitions and rallies weren’t enough.”
Haq said the group was thankful the weather had cleared up compared to Monday’s rainy weather, only drizzling a little bit toward the end, and the heavy winds forecasted for the day had not yet arrived by the time the protest closed down. Turnout was also a positive, Haq said, considering the weather, the early morning timing of the protest and the difficulty accessing the railroad.
He added interactions with police went smoothly, with two police liaisons working with law enforcement.
Police on scene referred requests for comment to CN police media relations, which did not respond to an email from the NOW.
Another railroad blockade is being planned for Nov. 27, which organizers said will be more accessible in terms of the time of day and the location of the protest.