In July 2018, Fire This Time Editorial Board Member and Climate Convergence Vancouver organizer Thomas Davies did two live radio interviews with Gurpreet Singh of SPICE Radio, a multilingual South Asian radio station on 1200 AM. They both focused on the ongoing struggle to stop the government bailout of the controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline project.
The interviews were conducted in English, with some parts translated into Punjabi as well. Below is a compiled transcript.
Gurpreet: You're listening to SPICE Radio and we have on the line Thomas Davies, who's going to tell us about this Saturday's flotilla protest against Kinder Morgan. So Thomas, tell us something about the kind of response the Saturday protest received. It was well reported in the media outlets. Probably you got a chance to see it first hand.
Thomas: Yes, I was there at the water. I think it's part of a consistent presence that was there before the government announced it was going to buy the Kinder Morgan pipeline and expansion project, and especially since. There has been a series of consistent protests and different actions that continue to get a really good response from the public and it's impossible for even the mainstream media to ignore.
G: What kind of people participated?
T: It was organized by Protect the Inlet, but as you've seen in a lot of these actions, they are led by Indigenous Nations and most importantly, led by Indigenous Nations whose territories the pipeline would cross if it was built. These Indigenous nations are saying, “We do no give consent for this pipeline to cross our territories,” which is particularly important given what Justin Trudeau has said many times about respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which includes 'free, prior and informed consent' to any to any resource extraction projects or anything that happens on their traditional territories. That's a very important aspect of the Indigenous-led part of this movement.
The bottom line is that under any sane person's perspective or opinion about consent: this pipeline does not have the clear consent of the communities it's going to be crossing. Indigenous Nations have not given their clear consent and so if Trudeau is faithful to what he's promised, then he can't proceed with the pipeline – but he's still trying to regardless.
G: Tell us how important it is for these groups in opposition to the pipeline to continue trying to get support as the date to purchase the pipeline gets closer.
T: That's a very good point. I work with a coalition called Climate Convergence, and we're a grassroots led climate justice organization. We've been organizing for about five years. We've never gotten any large donations, we have no paid staff. We operate solely on the power of the community, and we've been able to organize massive rallies of tens of thousands of people and continue organizing along with many other groups over the past five years. And people have been organizing even more before that. This project, I believe, would be well into construction if it hadn't been for the opposition especially in British Columbia. If people weren't so opposed, if Indigenous Nations weren't so clear in their opposition. And I think also organizers have been doing a better job of listening to the voices of Indigenous Nations and standing beside as they lead, as they should be.
It's important especially now because the Kinder Morgan shareholder’s meeting to sell the pipeline is happening soon and pretty soon we're all going to be owners of a dirty Tar Sands pipeline project. We need to articulate, as possible pipeline owners and 'shareholders', that we don't agree with it.
G: When we look at what the media has been doing in regards to reporting this, do you feel sometimes that the corporate media has slighted the opposition and criticized more of the protestors?
T: I think if you look at the comments of David Dodge, who’s a former Bank of Canada President and is currently a high-profile adviser to the Rachel Notley NDP government in Alberta, he has specifically said that there is going to be deaths of protesters while building the pipeline, and we need to be comfortable with people dying because of it. That kind of talk, those threats of death, I can just imagine what would happen if someone who was opposing the pipeline was talking like that. Talking about the other side dying. It's amazing that he got away with that, but so far he has. After talking about needing to be comfortable with people dying because of the pipeline, he went on to call the opposition “fanatics”.
So yes, I think there's a huge double standard in what the people and the corporate interests who support the pipeline get away with and the standard they hold to people who are opposing it. We really need to call out this kind of language, and Trudeau and Notley didn't condemn his language. There was no condemnation even from the media outlets that reported it. That's a huge double standard.
G: Thank you Thomas. Is there something we didn't ask you?
T: No, just that people should pay attention to continued actions. They can go to www.climateconvergence.ca to get all the information about upcoming actions. We are going to continue organizing. People power has been what's stopped the pipeline so far, and we've got to continue using that successful formula, and we've also got to reach other to a lot of people who aren't happy that the government of Canada has just committed 15 to 20 billion dollars at least to a pipeline project that everybody knows is going to lose money, is bad for the environment and is violating Indigenous rights. I really appreciate you giving us the time to talk about these important issues and hopefully we can talk again soon.
G: Tell us something about the Climate Convergence Coalition. When was it formed and what is its mandate?
T: The coalition formed five years ago as a grassroots effort to bring people together to fight for climate justice, and over that time the main campaign we've been focused on is stopping the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which is, as we see it, a defining issue in British Columbia and Canada. We've organized many of the larger rallies that have happened in Vancouver, and we continue to organize all sorts of different actions and educational events against the pipeline and on other climate justice issues.
G: Can you please explain to our listeners what you mean by “Climate Justice” so they have a better understanding about these issues.
T: That's a great question. Climate justice is the basic understanding that we need a planet that is healthy and has water, and air and an ecosystem that is operating in a balance; which it's been operating in for hundreds of thousands of years and is the reason that humans are able to exist and to thrive on earth - because of this very delicate and incredible balance that we have on this planet. There's a lot of science behind that, but the basic understanding is that through human activity, especially industrial activity, we have upset that balance. We are in danger of upsetting that balance to a point where this planet will no longer be livable for human beings or for really any living being for that matter. Climate justice is really recognizing that human beings have a responsibility to protect the planet because we've damaged it, but also because we have a responsibility as these amazing creatures that are really able to harness the power of the planet earth for a lot of really good things. It's recognizing responsibility and looking at the issue holistically.
G: What are your thoughts about the incident that happened at Camp Cloud? Two pro-pipeline protestors are alleging that they have been assaulted.
T: To go back a little bit, there are two camps on Burnaby Mountain that are close to the Kinder Morgan tank farm facility. There's one camp organized by a group called Protect the Inlet, and there's a another which is called Camp Cloud. Both camps are protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the proposed expansion project.
Recently the city of Burnaby issued an eviction notice to Camp Cloud, citing some concerns about health and safety and fire hazards. The deadline has now come and gone on that, and Camp Cloud has said that they are trying to reach out to the City about addressing some of these concerns.
In the meantime, we've seen a really distressing trend, especially in the last six months, of violence and threats of violence against people who are protesting the pipeline. I think I spoke last time about David Dodge's comments about people dying protesting the pipeline and being comfortable with that. Since then, if we look at the rhetoric especially on social media, death threats are becoming commonplace, and I know just from Climate Convergence we've gotten them just from our posts on Twitter and Facebook. This normalization of discussing violence against people who are defending the planet and trying to stop this pipeline is very concerning.
In this context, a pro-pipeline right-wing group in Alberta crowdfunded to raise money to send a bulldozer to Camp Cloud. I think we need to understand how insane that is - raising money to send a bulldozer to a peaceful camp. Two people associated with this bulldozer group went up to the Camp, and I'm not sure what they expected to receive - flowers and greetings? A bulldozer is meant to bulldoze, do destroy – it's a threat. There's obviously a heavy symbolism, it's obviously a really tense time, and obviously there's a lot of threats of violence against people.
I wasn't there, but if I'm looking at the situation overall, the provocation ins not from Camp Cloud. The provocation is from these people talking about bulldozing their camp.
G: Although we understand that assaulting anyone is not a good thing to do. It can really hurt your cause, however genuine it might be. But at the same time, do you see any problem with the way this has been framed in the media? The way this incident is being projected, or similar incidents where pro-pipeline protestors are being given a lot of coverage even though they are very small in number? What are your thoughts about that?
T: I think if people who are protesting the pipeline used even a small amount of the language or did even a small amount of these things the pro-pipeline groups have done, the media coverage would be huge. Imagine if someone protesting the pipeline said, “We need to be comfortable with having a few deaths stopping this pipeline. There's going to be a few pro-pipeline people that are going to die but we need to be comfortable with it.” Imagine if pipeline protestors were making daily threats against the lives of people who support the pipeline, like is happening in reverse right now. The media attention would be huge, whereas we rarely get any coverage of that in the mainstream media. We barely get any coverage except from some independent media sources like yourself, that have been covering and have helped for word to get out. There's a huge double standard that we've discussed before and I don't think that it's difficult to understand. This is a big business project and big business interests are behind it. Big business interests for the most part are what control the major media in Canada.
This issue of the pipeline is a political issue. It's going to come down to political will, to the political consequences to the government for trying to shove it through and build it. That's an issue of public perception and the media plays a big role in shaping public perception. We need to be, as I think you're highlighting directly, really vigilant about this double standard and making sure we're doing everything we can to get the word out about what we are actually fighting for.
G: This is an ongoing issue that not going away any time soon, so going down the line, how do you think different municipalities and the police will have to properly deal with this conflict?
T: We have seen of a lot of instances of the Canadian government, of the police, of the military being used especially against Indigenous peoples who are protecting their land. So, we need to really make sure that these threats and these ideas of violence are not normalized and that the actions we do organize are as united and as large and as consistent as possible.
I can't speak for what the police or the municipalities are planning, but I do know as someone who is actively involved in organizing against the pipeline and for climate justice that we understand that we need to make sure that we continue organizing, and it's been a really successful formula for us so far. The pipeline has been delayed and the deadline for the government to find a different buyer for the pipeline since it said it was going to buy the project from Kinder Morgan has come and gone, for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to buy this pipeline. We've got another couple months here before Kinder Morgan and the government of Canada are going to finalize the sale - so that's an opportunity to us to make sure we're making our voices loud and clear and to make sure that people know that we're standing up for the environment. We're standing up for clean air, for clean water, for healthy communities and for sustainable jobs. We need to keep making that case over and over again.
G: When we look at what corporations are doing, how much power do they have when it comes to getting government resources to build the pipeline?
T: It's pretty incredible that Kinder Morgan bought this pipeline for half a billion dollars, and then the government bought it from them for 4.5 billion dollars. They made a 600% profit, just from having this pipeline project and having the existing pipeline for a few years. If that doesn't demonstrate to someone what kind of power and influence these kinds of corporations have over the government I don't know what else will.
It's incredible what they've been able to get away with. The government waived all sorts of fees that Kinder Morgan should have to paid for participating in the required environmental review process. The government was willing to shell out 1.5 billion dollars of tax payer money for a marine safety project, which was really just a marine safety project which was necessitated by the possibility of hugely increased tanker traffic. I think we've seen that before. The government of Canada has just written off several billion dollars that they had loaned to corporations in 2008 during that financial crisis, and they won't even tell us who they loaned that money too. And that's billions of dollars that the Canadian taxpayer is never going to get back. Corporations have a huge influence, but I keep coming back to the fact that we need to understand that we have an influence here as well, and this pipeline project hasn't been built. It is in a crisis because of the fact that people have continued to speak out against it. We need to keep doing that, and we can to do a better job as well.
Just a reminder to check out www.climateconvergence.ca for more information, and that on Tuesday August 7 were are having a really big rally at Broadway and Commercial in Vancouver and everyone is invited at 5pm.
Thank you Gurpreet and SPICE Radio!
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