By Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
A Vancouver-area public health physician is challenging the Trans Mountain pipeline in court after his protest site along the expansion route was demolished so trees could be cut down.
Tim Takaro, a 63-year-old health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, is asking the B.C. Supreme Court to set aside an injunction order it handed Trans Mountain and its oil pipeline expansion project in 2018. The order has allowed police to arrest or detain anyone obstructing the project’s progress, from Edmonton to Metro Vancouver.
Takaro and a group of supporters have been camping out in forested areas along the pipeline’s route in and around Burnaby, blocking where the company will cut down trees to clear the way for construction of the pipeline, set to nearly triple Trans Mountain’s capacity up to 890,000 barrels per day of petroleum products flowing from Alberta.
He says he is choosing civil disobedience because his professional code of conduct requires that he protect the health of Canadians. Any short-term economic gains from the pipeline, he argues, will be overshadowed by the health risks caused by the climate crisis that is being propelled by pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.
In an affidavit sworn Dec. 9, 2020, Takaro said his camping and other equipment in a treehouse-style “peaceful, lawful and safe protest” site at a location on Holmes Creek in Burnaby — near a rail line and the Trans Canada highway — had been “demolished” that day before he arrived.
After he got there, Takaro stated in the affidavit, officials working for Trans Mountain, as well as Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway, arrived. He said he was given a copy of the injunction order that would prohibit him from continuing his protest, and he complied.
“We were just about to go up into the treehouse to stay for an extended period,” Takaro said in an interview Feb. 9. Those who dismantled the site, he said, “unceremoniously dumped our stuff outside the gate.” Thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including a solar power system, batteries and climbing gear, were also taken at one point, said Takaro.
Photos posted on the Facebook page Protect The Planet Stop TMX show the treehouse surrounded with caution tape and blue scaffolding being put up. Another photo showed a sign reading “Trans Mountain property: any person who obstructs access to this site is in breach of an injunction order and may be subject to immediate arrest and prosecution.”
In the days following the Dec. 9 incident, Takaro and a group of about eight supporters moved to a spot near Lost Creek, he said, the next stream along the pipeline route, and have now built another treehouse camp there.
“We’re not going to get caught with our pants down again,” said Takaro. “We’re not coming down.”
Representatives from Trans Mountain, CN Rail and CP Rail could not immediately be reached for comment.
Trans Mountain said Feb. 8 it was resuming work on the expansion project after a worker was killed at one of its construction sites near Edmonton and another seriously injured at a Burnaby site.
The “voluntary safety stand down” of its workforce of 7,000 people was ordered mid-December, and Trans Mountain said it undertook a review of all its workplace safety rules.
The ability of Trans Mountain — which is owned and operated by the Canada Development Investment Corporation, a federal Crown corporation that reports to Parliament through the finance minister — to cut down trees to clear the way for its expansion project was also made easier this month after a favourable ruling from a federal regulator.
The City of Burnaby requires a municipal permit under most circumstances before anyone is allowed to “carry out any activity that may kill or injure a tree” that is 20.3 centimetres in diameter or greater.
But the Canada Energy Regulator issued an order Feb. 3 that says Trans Mountain would not be required to obtain the permits to cut down trees. The energy company had asked the regulator’s commission if it could ignore the permits “on the basis that the bylaw is impairing and frustrating its ability to build the expansion project.”
Takaro, who is also a clinical professor at the University of Washington and visiting associate professor at the University of British Columbia, has studied the health impacts of climate change for decades.
He said he is challenging the injunction on the basis there was insufficient consideration of the pipeline’s impact on the climate and to Canada’s international obligations when it comes to the Paris Agreement.
“Anybody who really looks at this project in 2021, in the world we’re living in, and hoping for a post-COVID world, this project makes no sense whatsoever,” he said.
“Even economically, it’s no longer viable. But it’s become a political must-have for (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau. And I think that’s a really bad miscalculation, especially for somebody who is trying to make himself into a climate leader.”
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