Protesters in recent weeks have constructed a two-storey carver’s cabin, installed a makeshift shower and put up several tents alongside the road without permits
BURNABY, B.C. — One morning earlier this week, opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion huddled in a circle at their makeshift camp — a growing shantytown of plywood, tarps, tents, campers and protest signs — to plan their response to a 72-hour eviction notice they had just been given by the City of Burnaby.
Though occupants of Camp Cloud wouldn’t let outsiders listen in on their deliberations, one thing was clear: they had no intention of leaving by the deadline of 6 a.m. Saturday morning, insisting their campsite, which started as a single trailer late last year, is a vital “visual and spiritual expression” of their opposition to the pipeline, which to them represents corporate greed and the threat of environmental degradation.
“What are we going to do on Saturday? We’re going to stand our ground,” said camp matriarch Kwitsel Tatel, sitting on a tattered couch with an unobstructed view of the trucks rumbling in and out of the gates to Kinder Morgan’s sprawling tank farm across the street. Nearby, smoke wafted from a sacred fire that burns around the clock at the heart of the campsite.
In a press release Friday afternoon, camp occupants said they were willing to work with the city to make modifications to their structures, but that they needed more than 72 hours to do so. Burnaby city manager Lambert Chu said in an email officials agreed to a meeting — which will take place Monday — but still expected Camp Cloud to comply with the order.
As the deadline loomed and anticipation grew, city officials declined to telegraph what enforcement actions they were prepared to take in response to the promised act of defiance. But it is clear they were facing increasing pressure from some nearby residents who said they were fed up with the growing “eyesore” that is the camp.
The city is in a bind: it has actually been a vocal opponent to the pipeline project, which would expand delivery of oil sands bitumen from Alberta to B.C.’s Lower Mainland, raising concerns about increasing oil tanker traffic. But officials said while they support the right to protest, they can no longer stand by as occupants of Camp Cloud — whose numbers hover around 15 to 20 on any given day — flout city bylaws.
Of major concern, said Chu, is the open fire; the smallest spark could ignite the area, which is surrounded by dense forest and large storage tanks labelled “flammable.”
In addition, protesters in recent weeks have constructed a two-storey carver’s cabin, installed a makeshift shower and put up several tents alongside the road without permits. Chu said the city made multiple attempts — in person and in writing — to work with the protesters to comply with bylaws but to no avail.
“Sometimes the dialogue and conversations were very short,” he said.
The eviction notice — delivered early Wednesday morning by city officials with backup from eight RCMP officers — warns protesters that if they do not remove all camp structures and vehicles by Saturday morning “the city of Burnaby will take action to enforce compliance (including removing the camp).”
But the protesters, who say they belong to the Coast Salish and other Indigenous groups, insist they are being good stewards — the fire is “lovingly watched over,” Tatel said — and say the city’s attempts at consultation were inadequate.
“I’ve never had a decent, mutual-respecting relationship discussion with the city of Burnaby,” Tatel said. “While they say they’ve tried to talk to us, they were coming to give orders.”
In recent weeks, protesters — upset with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement that the federal government would buy the Trans Mountain pipeline project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion because it was in the “national interest” — have attempted to draw attention to the controversial project in other ways.
Several of them rappelled down the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver in an effort to block oil tanker traffic from passing through. In Montreal, Greenpeace members climbed the Olympic Stadium tower and unfurled a banner that said “Stop Pipelines: Don’t Dirty Our Money.”
But it is here — at the entrance to the Kinder Morgan tank farm on Burnaby Mountain — and at the nearby Westridge Marine terminal where the main protests and blockades have taken place.
Since a court-ordered injunction took effect earlier this year, preventing protesters from coming within five metres of Trans Mountain sites, 211 people have been arrested for violating that order, police say.
However, during the National Post’s visit to Camp Cloud this week, the scene was much more placid. When the occupants weren’t strategizing, they were sleeping, or lounging near the fire surrounded by banners that read “F— the injunction” and “Hemp lands, not tar sands.”