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Climate change motivated author J.B. MacKinnon to stand up to Kinder Morgan

J.B. MacKinnon back on Burnaby Mountain after his arrest. Photo by Peter Morelli

Author J.B. MacKinnon went up to Burnaby Mountain on the weekend to protest against Kinder Morgan's plans to run a second pipeline through one of Burnaby's most cherished conservation areas. 

He was arrested for crossing into the Kinder Morgan drilling site currently under injunction by the B.C. Supreme Court, becoming one of the first in a growing series of prominent public figures to take action and get vocal on Burnaby Mountain.

MacKinnon spoke to The Vancouver Observer after he had spent some time walking in the sun and "breathing the air of freedom" on the morning after his arrest, on the personal reasons for why he crossed the police line after the court granted Kinder Morgan an injunction.  

MacKinnon is a Canadian journalist and literary figure and is well-known for such environmentally progressive works as his latest book The Once and Future World (a national bestseller that won the U.S. Green Prize for Sustainable Literature). He also helped spark a local eating trend with the 100-Mile Diet. 

From observer to participant

Yet as far as environmental protest goes, he has normally been the observer documenting and commenting on events, rather than the one getting arrested on the front lines:

"I attended the protests in Clayoquot Sound as a journalist, I attended the big demonstrations that happened against APEC, at UBC and the Gulf War as a journalist; I was present at the Battle of Seattle in 1999 as a journalist," he said. "This was the first time that I felt that I actually needed to cross the line from observer to participant." 

When asked what compelled him to make this transition from observer to participant, MacKinnon suggested that the decision was partly based on how best he could contribute to the cause at this point in time.

"[I've] had the sense for some time that it's not a lack of words on paper or a lack of ideas that's preventing us as a society from moving forwards and addressing climate change as the most urgent issue of our time," he said. 

Accordingly, he concluded that "getting another article out there wasn't going to be as valuable a contribution as actually putting myself on the line with all those other people who had made the difficult decision (to get arrested)".

MacKinnon said he joined the protests for the first time on Friday (he was out of town on Thursday), and realized that protesters "were being arrested for things that I believe in. They were being arrested at a time that I think action is important and I felt that I needed to join with them."

Then, he said, "it really came down to a sleepless night." 

"Quite literally, I had an almost sleepless night after Friday and then I just woke up in the morning with a clear decision in my mind that I was going to go out there and get arrested. I spent that night thinking about how the consequences could play out in my life. I came to the conclusion that I was ready to face the consequences in order to make this particular statement."

When you watch the footage of a plasti-cuffed MacKinnon being informed of his rights by an RCMP officer after being taken into police custody, the clarity of purpose and calm resolve won at the cost of this sleepless Friday night seem evident in his manner. The statement he issued to the Vancouver Observer after being processed and let go by the RCMP demonstrates a similar degree of quiet determination:  

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