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[UPDATED] Fighting for the right to protest

Burnaby resident takes on Kinder Morgan in the courts
Alan Dutton
Burnaby resident and retired academic Alan Dutton is refusing to settle in Kinder Morgan's civil suit against five pipeline protesters. Instead, he's applied to the B.C. Supreme Court to have the suit thrown out, while campaigning for anti-SLAPP suit legislation in B.C.

Burnaby resident Alan Dutton is taking Kinder Morgan on in the courts and hoping to see anti-SLAPP suit legislation reintroduced in B.C.

Dutton was one of five defendants named in Kinder Morgan's multimillion-dollar civil suit brought forward when the company sought an injunction against protesters on Burnaby Mountain in November.

"The issue here is our democracy and the fundamental right to protest," Dutton told the NOW. "It's to show people we can fight big multinational corporations, and we can be successful."

Kinder Morgan's initial suit against the five protesters listed several general accusations, including assault and trespassing, and sought damages that could have totalled millions. While the other four wish to settle with the company, Dutton is refusing and instead has applied to have the case against him thrown out based on lack of evidence.

Dutton, an active member of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion, was part of the anti-pipeline protests on Burnaby Mountain, but he maintains he was not involved in many of the unlawful activities outlined in Kinder Morgan's suit.

The B.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Dutton's case on Tuesday, Jan. 13. If the judge rules in Dutton's favour, he could ask for Kinder Morgan to repay his legal costs, but if he loses, Kinder Morgan could ask Dutton to pay. But money is not the point, Dutton said.

"What we want is recognition this was a malicious, vexatious, frivolous lawsuit that was launched to deny me my Charter rights," he said.

Dutton, a retired academic, described the case as a SLAPP suit, which is generally used to silence critics while burdening them with enormous legal costs.

Dutton's lawyer, Neil Chantler, said his client has a good chance of winning and that cases like this don't come along very often.

"This is a excellent opportunity for the court to consider the appropriate response where the court's process is being abused by a big corporation trying to bully people who are opposed to its economic activities," he said.

Chantler figures Dutton was singled out because he is the public face of BROKE.

"They've dragged Alan Dutton through the mud," he said. "He should never been named in this suit in the first place."

Dutton said he's been contacting organizations and political parties, hoping to push for new anti-SLAPP suit legislation in B.C.

The NDP brought in legislation against SLAPP suits more than a decade ago, but it only lasted a five months, because the Liberals axed it after they took power in 2001, Chantler explained.

Ali Hounsell, a spokesperson for Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion project, responded to the NOW's inquiry with an emailed statement.

"Although financial damages were suffered by the company as a result of the events and unlawful actions that occurred on Burnaby Mountain the company has expressed its willingness, in the spirit of conciliation, to end the proceedings without claiming any damages against the Defendants. The company has pursued that objective and provided all of the defendants with that opportunity," Hounsell wrote. "It is unfortunate Mr. Dutton has chosen to pursue further legal actions, and we believe his motion to be without merit. Trans Mountain respects and supports the right to free speech and peaceful protest. The order that Trans Mountain received did not and was never intended to prevent or deter people from freely expressing their views. Indeed the events that occurred after the injunction order demonstrate that fact."

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