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Crowdfunding campaign raises thousands for protesters' defence in Kinder Morgan lawsuit

Photo of Kinder Morgan crew members and citizens by Mychaylo Prystupa
Photo of Kinder Morgan crew members and citizens by Mychaylo Prystupa

After Kinder Morgan served Burnaby residents with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for speaking out against the company’s pipeline test work on Burnaby Mountain, a group of dedicated “land defenders” turned to crowdfunding to cover legal costs.

In its appointment notice, Trans Mountain is asking for an injunction barring protesters from blocking its crews from doing survey work at the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area Park. The company is also asking for damages and costs in a civil lawsuit over what it claims is trespass, assault and intimidation by protesters who chased away workers.

The land defenders’ GoFundMe page donations will help cover the legal costs for Stephen Collis, Adam Gold, Mia Nissen, Lynne Quarmby and Alan Dutton of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE). The hearings will be held Nov. 5 to 7 at the Supreme Court.

Although the “Legal Defence Fund” page was only created a few days ago to reach a goal of $40,000, the defenders have already received $21,700 from 270 donors with mostly smaller donations. The "defence fund" goes toward the five people named in the suit, and not toward the pipeline groups, which are also raising funds to hold workshops to speak with the public about the Trans Mountain pipeline. The hearing will only cover the injunction, which is what the funding will help with. When the group prepares for the defence for the civil suit, the funding goal will be reset.

One of the many donors included Simon Fraser University’s Ph.D. candidate Derek Sahota who contributed $200. “I’m a resident of Burnaby Mountain. I use the park all the time, and Kinder Morgan would come in here and destroy the park and charge people for trespassing. It makes me feel like our democracy doesn’t exist anymore, so my donation to the legal fund is also to stand up and say ‘that’s not right,'" he said.

Sahota says the one of most interesting aspect of the campaign is that there are many small contributions that make a major impact on the fund.

“It’s a lot of small donations that on average are less than $100 with a lot of people who really care around the community chipping in a little bit, because they care about the park, they care about the future of our climate, and they care about not having a huge pipeline going right through the middle of our city.”

Lower Mainland resident Shirley Staples says she’s “touched” by the community’s efforts to support the fund, especially the citizens who contributed around $5. The fact that many people who don’t have a lot of money to give are still donating what little they have is “heart-warming,” she added.

Local author and freelance writer John Vaillant said in an e-mail that he contributed to the fund because of the larger climate issues the GoFundMe page stands for.

“As a citizen and parent familiar with the dire findings of the U.N.'s  latest IPCC report, it is abundantly clear to me that any efforts to increase fossil fuel use are contrary to the best interests of our planet's health,” he said.

“Given what we know about greenhouse gases and climate change, no responsible government would be encouraging expansions of the kind the NEB and Kinder Morgan are trying to force on the people of British Columbia.

Not all donors were from Lower Mainland. Vancouver Island book publisher and poet Ursula Vaira donated to the cause after following the story on the news.

“I was moved by the writers who were taking part in the protest there on the mountain,” said Vaira. “I see it as part of a larger problem where the corporations can just come in and not have any respect for what the people who live there want. I can’t come over there and take part in the marches, so my donation is to support the people who are there.”

Vaira says she’s “astonished” to see the donations climb to over $20,000 from $15,000 when she donated just earlier today.

“I’m very very happy they’re getting the support they need, because it’s terrifying to go to court,” added Vaira. “It’s terrifying to have a corporation lay a charge on you, and it’s also terrifically expensive, so I’m so happy for them for getting support with their court costs.”

Those who created the campaign  called out Kinder Morgan for filing an apparent SLAPP – strategic lawsuit against public participation – against them in a press release, and said they will come prepared to defend their rights.

“Kinder Morgan’s suit against non-violent protestors appears to be a classic SLAPP suit, intended to put a chill on opponents and critics,” the group said in the release. “In the eyes of many, it is a thinly veiled attempt to undercut constitutional rights and democratic process. Defendants will be relying on contributions from the public to help them stand up for their Charter rights.”

But Kinder Morgan told the Vancouver Observer that what they really want is to work in cooperation with citizens: “Last week Trans Mountain gave notice to seek an injunction order against protestors on Burnaby work sites so that we can safely continue field studies mandated by the NEB. Our preference is to work cooperatively, and we respect the right to peaceful protest. However, we are required by the NEB to complete these studies in order to support our application, and we are pursuing our legal options. Our Lawyers will present the case before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.”

To donate to the GoFundMe page, click here. To donate to BROKE, see here. 

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