“Corporate bullying” on trial: court asked to toss Kinder Morgan lawsuit
"If we don’t fight these kinds of law suits, democracy itself is threatened," says lawsuit defendant Alan Dutton.
Pipeline opponent and Burnaby resident Alan Dutton was in court Tuesday seeking to have a controversial Kinder Morgan lawsuit against him thrown out by the B.C. Supreme Court.
"My reputation has been tarnished. The allegations are that I’ve committed a conspiracy to break the law, and I didn’t do that,” said Dutton, outside the court building.
The retiree was hit in late October with a civil suit that appeared to put himself, and four other defendants, at risk of millions of dollars in claimed damages by Texas-based Kinder Morgan.
The company said the defendants unlawfully conspired to intimidate company crews and frustrate them from completing their survey work on Burnaby Mountain for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The collision of protesters, citizens and company crews ultimately resulted in more than 100 arrests. Last month, and after the drilling was completed, the company began quietly dropping their civil suits against the five defendants it believed were the ringleaders.
But Dutton chose not to settle, and to carry on the fight. He said companies should not be allowed to use so-called "SLAPP" lawsuits (strategic lawsuit against public participation) to bully opponents of industrial projects.
“This has been an abuse of the [court] process. If we don’t fight these kinds of law suits, democracy itself is threatened," said Dutton.
The former SFU academic and non-profit professional says his activities have been entirely lawful. He runs the website for BROKE – a citizens group of 500 members that opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion pipeline. The group is also named in the lawsuit.
Dutton's lawyer, Neil Chantler told the court that Dutton's "only crime" was that he organized citizens who had views opposing Kinder Morgan's pipeline, and disseminated information about the risks of transporting dilbit oil by pipeline and tanker.
Trans Mountain pipeline survey crews were met by angry protesters on Burnaby Mountain on Oct. 29. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.
But central to Kinder Morgan’s argument is that Dutton allegedly attended an October 29th clash between protesters and company crews at the area called 'borehole two" on Burnaby Mountain.
"BROKE counselled unlawful activities, and [Dutton] knew it," said corporate lawyer, William Kaplan for Kinder Morgan.
The basis for his argument was an affidavit given by the pipeline project leader Carey Johannesson who said he "recollected" that Dutton was on the mountain, inside the posted work areas to frustrate the crews.
Kaplan said this suggested Dutton was a key "conspirator" to the effort to mobilize resisters to frustrate and block the company's work activity.
Dutton scoffed at this, and said he arrived one hour after the clashes were over, and the crews had left the mountain.