Who I met on Burnaby Mountain

I wanted to hear the stories of people on TV who looked like our neighbours

What good is a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on? – Henry David Thoreau.

Last November, I stood beside a young man on the legal side of a police tape separating protesters from Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby Mountain drilling site.

Two feet away stood an RCMP officer, about the same age.

Jared Blustein told him Burnaby opposed the drilling.

“It’s the first time the National Energy Board ruled against a decision of a municipal government.”

“I know Mayor Corrigan is against it,” opined the officer.

“You should learn more about the issues,” suggested Blustein.

Blustein talked about alternatives to fossil fuels and the danger of oil spills on the coast.

I wanted to hear the stories of people on TV who looked like anyone’s neighbours, folks who wanted a decent planet on which to build a house.

I also wanted to see how the police responded to protestors vastly unlike hooligans bent on vandalism.

During Occupy Vancouver 2011, I’d seen the police relaxed, friendly, and even helpful. They seemed like that now.

The drilling site is on Dan’s Trail, a muddy path through dense bush to a road where students park their cars.

“You’ve got a seven minute walk,” a policeman said when I asked if I was going the right way.

Earlier that day, several protestors braved Dan’s Trail, ignored the police barrier and accepted the consequences.

Suddenly, Blustein lifted the yellow ribbon and stepped into no man’s land.

“Do what you have to,” he said to the officer.

“What were you thinking just now?” I asked before he was taken away.

“I had to take a stand against something I don’t believe in,” he said.

Much later, I searched the web for this young man and found this: “ … interested in economic issues, social justice, and like all good sociologists, wants to make a change for the better in this world.”

On the way up Dan’s Trail, I met Vera, a First Nations woman who lives in Maple Ridge.

On Facebook, someone called protestors who drove cars hypocrites.

“It made me mad,” Vera said. “I wanted to ask if he liked eating seafood, drinking clean water, breathing clean air.”

At the crest of the hill, supporters set up tents to feed and warm protesters.

Denise offered the hot minestrone soup she’d made that morning. I ate next to forest advocate Valerie Langer.

“This is the first time there’s been a shovel in the ground,” she said. “It has echoes from Clayquot in 1983. This is a galvanizing time for people. You can see that by the number and type who are willing to face jail time.”

Langer, a key figure at Clayquot, said deciding to take action “comes after feeling lonely and disempowered in the face of government decisions that change your life.

“It’s a dramatic time. I talked to a 74-year-old grandmother who described herself as a very common person. She’s only had one library fine in her lifetime.

“I met a military guy who’d served in Afghanistan,” she added. “He said he fought for Canada and didn’t know it had become a fascist government.

“There’s a lot of despair. The federal government will remove any language in legislation that gets in their way. That creates anxiety.”

Christina Chiu, a teacher, worries about oil tankers.

“All of us will have to answer to future Canadians when pollution gets to critical levels,” she said.

She was also upset with government disrespect for Aboriginal rights.

“We make apologies, then push through First Nations territories with the same colonial attitude.”

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.