Cross Posted from Metro News
It was billed as one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
As thousands of peaceful protesters took to the Legislature lawn in Victoria Monday to voice their opposition to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline and the oil tanker traffic that would result from it, hundreds more were ready to cross a legal line.
At the height of the Defend Our Coast (DOC) rally, 412 people had stopped by the organizers’ tent and signed legal intake forms – declaring themselves ready, able and willing to take part in civil disobedience.
About 230 were then involved in action that could have seen them arrested.
While it never came to that, the threat remains.
DOC followed up their rally with protests at the offices of every MLA in the province Wednesday, and promise to ramp up their campaign against pipelines.
Been there, done that
Former Greenpeace activist Christine LeClerc said the new wave of eager opposition, especially those involved for the first time, on display in Victoria was inspiring.
They were more or less following in her footsteps.
On a warm summer day in July 2010, Greenpeace staged a public demonstration outside Enbridge’s downtown Vancouver office.
As unassuming business people, locals and tourists walked by a “burst pipeline” pouring oil-black cola over a photo of B.C.’s coast on Burrard Street, four activists had barged into Enbridge’s sixth-floor office at One Bentall Centre and chained themselves to the door.
They vowed to stay there until their message – that the Calgary-based company should revoke their application for the Northern Gateway project – was heard.
Within the building, the shouts fell on deaf ears.
“We didn’t have much interaction with anybody in the office,” LeClerc recalls. “There was no indication they would withdraw their proposal for Northern Gateway because of us.”
The real goal was to draw attention to a project Greenpeace dubbed as “disastrous to the environment”.
And through media coverage of the stunt, LeClerc believes the organization was able to “get the word out” on what has since become a burning issue throughout the province.
After 14 hours, Vancouver police moved in on the protesters and arrested the four activists.
“It’s not fun and certainly not intended to be comfortable,” LeClerc said of the arrest. “You’re not treated as a special guest. You don’t know how long you will be detained for, there are times when you get pretty intense.”
Don’t make her angry
She’s kind, funny and can talk your ear off with her charming disposition, motherly tone and a lifetime of colourful tales.
Eighty-four year old Betty Krawczyk doesn’t exactly strike fear into your heart… unless you happen to be a logging company or highway contractor.
Then she may as well be Bruce Banner’s grandmother.
In the blink of an eye, the gentle senior’s Hulk-like alter ego takes over: The Raging Granny.
The writer-turned-activist earned that nickname over decades of civil disobedience.
But unlike most protesters, arrest is just the beginning for Krawczyk.
“There are sort of two aspects to civil disobedience,” she said. “One is a willingness to be arrested. Which is good, I don’t want to put it down, it draws attention to the cause, but the protesters signs an undertaking saying they’re sorry and they’re deleted from the struggle because they’ve promised not to go back.”
Krawczyk is known for taking the second option; defying a court injunction, being found in contempt of court and biding her time behind bars indefinitely as a self-proclaimed political prisoner.
That’s how she’s racked up three years and four months in jail, most recently after being arrested during a 2006 sit-in at Eagleridge Bluffs in opposition to the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion.
She has left the Lower Mainland for Courtney, B.C., joking that she needs to “recuperate from the long haul of courts and prisons”.
From her vantage point, the public’s current opposition to pipelines in B.C. has the potential to be a powder keg.
“It’s encouraging to people like me, and aggravating to others,” Krawczyk said. “But I don’t think it’s lost on the public consciousness that there are people willing to go to jail on this issues.”
A B.C. tradition
It also hasn’t been lost on another observer.
Rex Weyler, Greenpeace co-founder and de facto historian, sees Defend Our Coast as a new page in the province’s history of civil disobedience.
“There is a deep and broad movement in British Columbia,” he said. “Indigenous people, labour unions, peace marchers have all created a unique cross-section of B.C.’s culture. We’re outdoors people, we make our living on the waters and in the forests and are sensitive to these issues.”
As the National Energy Board reviews Enbridge’s plans and politicians duke it out for their “fair share”, Weyler believes public action will escalate as well.
“People are going to make a stand here,” he said.
Civil disobedience has been a tool in B.C. since the province’s first general strike in 1918 and have been used by religious groups, gay advocates, labour unions and environmentalist over the past century.
Weyler said the conditions were “unique” in 1941 when Greenpeace formed in the living room of a Vancouver home.
The public sentiment against whaling and nuclear testing then mirrors today’s concerns about oil, he said.
Know yer rights
Two guides were given to protesters at Defend Our Coast: The B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s Arrest Handbook and a Protesters’ Guide to the Law of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia.
The latter was written by Vancouver lawyer Leo McGrady in 2011.
“When exercised as collective action, civil disobedience can be particularly effective in motivating social and political change,” writes McGrady.
The guide tells protesters what to bring with them, what to leave at home and what to expect when their actions result in arrest.
The most common charges associated with civil disobedience are mischief, assault, obstructing a peace officer and causing a disturbance.
For example, an act such as chaining yourself to a railing (“actions constituting slight inconvenience that do not interfere or interrupt the lawful use or enjoyment of property”) isn’t mischief unless some kind of barricade is formed.
A sit-in at a public office isn’t mischief, but refusing to leave when the building is closed is.
LeClerc ultimately escaped convictions after her 2010 Enbridge sit-in but said she was well aware of the risks.
Anyone crossing the line between peaceful protester to law-breaking activist should be too.
“For me, it’s not something I entered into lightly,” she said. “It was very clear in my mind what the potential consequences were. There is a possibility of arrest and a criminal record, these things do happen.”
McGrady lays out some of the consequences of a criminal record in his legal guide.
“There are numerous social and economic consequences of having a criminal record,” he writes. “These include possible limitations on job prospects, potential deportation from Canada if you are a visitor or even a landed immigrant, difficulty entering foreign countries and the stigma of having a record.”