Kinder Morgan to file court action against protesters blocking pipeline work

VANCOUVER – Lawyers for Trans Mountain pipeline will be back in B.C. Supreme Court next Wednesday to seek an injunction against protesters who have blocked survey work in a conservation area in Metro Vancouver.

The subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan filed two separate court actions against protesters, after demonstrators confronted Trans Mountain crews on Burnaby Mountain last Wednesday. One person even crawled under a survey crew’s SUV and refused to leave.

The company is asking for an injunction preventing protesters from blocking its crews from doing work on the expansion project on Burnaby Mountain.

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.

Justice Miriam Gropper heard Friday that the lawsuits were served against the defendants less than a day before. She said holding a hearing on Monday on the injunction would not give the defendants enough time to prepare.

But she also said pushing the hearing back a full week to Nov. 10 was unjustified, too, because the defendants likely anticipated the company’s application.

Gropper also turned down a request by Neil Chantler, who is representing one of the defendants, to issue a stop work order.

“I don’t have any basis at this point to issue, or jurisdiction for that matter, to issue a stop work order, and don’t have any evidence to support such an order,” she said.

Chantler told Gropper that he struggled to respond to her decision.

“This entire situation arose last night,” he said. “I am a sole practitioner of a busy practice.”

Lawyer Casey Leggett, who represents two defendants named in the court proceedings, Lynne Quarmby and Stephen Collis, said outside of court he respected the ruling.

“We’ve got a little bit more time, which is what we wanted so now it’s time to move ahead and look ahead and not look back at this relatively minor application,” he said.

Kinder Morgan’s lawyer Bill Kaplan told reporters he understands why the judge would want to give the other side time to respond, calling the issue a “serious matter.”

“They were aware that the reaction of Trans Mountain would be to seek injunctive proceedings, and those will proceed on the fifth and they’ll have a right to make their submissions at that point and so will I,” he said of the defendants named in the lawsuits.

Court documents say the company’s inability to conduct the field studies because of the protesters’ actions means its plan to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline will be delayed and cost both the firm and investors money.

Trans Mountain is authorized by the National Energy Board to conduct the field work, and the company accuses protesters of trespassing at three separate work sites and verbally abusing work crews.

“The protesters, including the defendants or some of them, physically obstructed Trans Mountain and its agents by blocking their access to the site, and intimidated Trans Mountain and its agents through physical confrontation, and yelling and screaming abusive words,” said the court documents.

“An individual chained himself to a vehicle used by Trans Mountain and its agents and prevented them from safely withdrawing that equipment from the site.”

The company said it marked out work zones with signs, but some protesters pulled the signs out and damaged them.

Other protesters erected tents and used vehicles to bar workers, making it clear that “if they attempted to perform the tasks for which they came to the site … there would be a physical confrontation and that they would be physically prevented from doing so,” the court documents state.

At the end, the workers turned around and left.

SFU English professor Stephen Collis, who is listed in the statement of claim as one of the defendants, was on Burnaby Mountain Wednesday speaking on behalf of a group calling themselves the Caretakers. He said he didn’t witness the incidents described by Trans Mountain, but he finds some of the company’s claims “absurd.”

“So this U.S.-based company can take away my Canadian constitutional rights? It’s a public park,” he said in a phone interview on Friday. “I’m a public person, I can make statements, I can be in public space, be in a public park, but now I’ve been told I can’t do any of those things.”

Collis also said Burnaby Mountain is on municipal land, and it’s not up to Trans Mountain to declare protesters were trespassing.

The injunction application and civil lawsuit is the latest in a bitter battle over Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline through Burnaby.

If approved, the $5.4-billion dollar expansion plan would come close to tripling the capacity of the existing pipeline between Alberta and B.C. to about 900,000 barrels of crude a day.

The National Energy Board granted the company access to Burnaby Mountain last week, saying the City of Burnaby can’t block the survey work because it is needed for the board to make a decision on the expansion application.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has said he doesn’t believe the federal regulator has the authority to consider constitutional questions concerning city bylaws.

The city plans to appeal the ruling.