On Saturday, a group of Canadian writers protested the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline with a public reading attended by almost 200 people.
Writers and poets including John Vaillant, Patrick Freisen, Eve Joseph, Deborah Campbell, Bill Gaston, Shaena Lambert, Caroline Adderson, Brian Brett, Briony Penn and Ronald Wright took part in the reading on Burnaby Mountain.
Novelist Margaret Atwood also contributed to the event with a short and pointed statement that warned that “Canadian taxpayers are now unwilling participants in a potentially ocean-killing project that ignores Indigenous rights… Human life on earth cannot survive dead oceans.” All the submissions to the event — some 150 pieces by writers and poets across the country — will be sent to the prime minister.
I was part of the group. I read wonderful poems by Joelene Heathcote and Dorothy Field. I later participated in a direct action event led by Coast Salish youth by blocking Kinder Morgan’s gates. With other protesters, including a 71-year-old artist, I violated the Trans Mountain court injunction against civil disobedience.
The protestors, most of whom were women, all risked going to jail for 14 days.
But Kinder Morgan did not file a complaint with the RCMP about our action. A foreign corporation decides when the law is broken on Burnaby Mountain, and the idea of telling the police to arrest one writer and several courageous women apparently didn’t appeal to Kinder Morgan that day. So there were no arrests Saturday, although 220 people have been arrested since protests began.
Here’s what I said at the event:
Writers, by their trade, work in isolation and often live comfortable lives.
If they have one duty — one soulful commitment — it is to serve truth and freedom.
These duties, as Albert Camus often reflected, can be arduous.
More than 50 years ago he argued that writers cannot serve those who make history; they must serve those who are subject to it.
He added that “the great citizens of a country are not those who bend the knee before authority but rather those who, against authority if need be, are adamant as to the honour and freedom of that country.”
I am here today to defend liberty and freedom, and I am here to defend the rights of Coast Salish people and the residents of Burnaby to protest an egregious pipeline.
To defend its purchase the government has lied about the economics.
There is no Asian price premium for bitumen and there never will be. Bitumen is junk crude and it is priced as cheap refinery feedstock around the world.
Our government has also lied about its abilities to clean up bitumen spills in the ocean.
And it has lied to the Canadian people about the consequences of expanding fossil fuel production, which now directly feed the wildfires that are consuming our treed landscapes and poisoning our watersheds.
Politicians who think they can solve the climate change crisis by expanding hydrocarbon production have become terrorists in our communities, anarchists in our oceans and arsonists in our forests.
They are behaving like crazed firemen who think they can fight fire with gasoline.
Our children, who can see the moral hazard clearly, are now living with the flames and carbon-filled skies.
Yet our political leaders cannot recognize the dishonesty of their decision-making.
Each day the insults grow.
Our government now thinks it is serving justice by arresting and jailing a 75-year-old citizen and recipient of the Order of Canada who merely exercised her civic duty to protest the construction of an unnecessary pipeline.
Our Crown prosecutors have argued for longer and stiffer jail times — without shame.
In such a time the writer’s role is clear and simple. We must resist the lies. We must resist the deception and we must resist the political bullying.
Camus said it best: “Without giving up anything on the plane of justice, yield nothing on the plane of freedom.”