First Nations communities and their supporters are planning to ratchet up on-the-ground resistance to Kinder Morgan Inc.'s planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline with a call for a mass demonstration on Burnaby Mountain in March.
Members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation – which is challenging the federal approval in court – is launching a campaign of volunteer recruitment and training Tuesday through a network of allied Indigenous communities and environmental groups.
"The spiritual leaders are calling for a mass mobilization," Rueben George, project manager for the Sacred Trust, which was established by the Tsleil-Waututh to oppose the $7.4-billion pipeline project.
"We want to rally support and bring out the facts of the destruction [the project] will cause and who really benefits."
The planned action could escalate into confrontation as opponents of the project are determined to stop construction, said Chief Bob Chamberlain, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
"I can see [protesters] doing whatever it takes" to stop the project, he said. "This is going to escalate to a place that the government doesn't anticipate. We hope for peaceful, non-violent action but people are going to rise up to the challenge."
Opponents of the pipeline expansion demonstrated on Burnaby Mountain three years ago, and more than 100 people were arrested for refusing police orders to disperse. Smaller protests have sprung up in recent months around Kinder Morgan's Burnaby terminal, as the company continues to obtain permits from the B.C. government for preconstruction activity.
On Tuesday, the Tsleil Waututh will put out a call to allied nations and supporters of environmental organization, with organizers saying their network will reach some 200,000 Canadians.
The planned pipeline expansion has sparked an interprovincial battle between the British Columbia government, which opposes the project, and Alberta, which argues its oil industry desperately needs access to Pacific Rim markets in order to receive world prices for its crude.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Nanaimo, B.C., last week defending his government's decision to approve the project that he insists is in the national interest, while pledging to protect the coast from risks of a spill because of increased tanker traffic.
At an energy conference in Ottawa, several industry speakers said the Trans Mountain project is a key marker for the Liberal government, arguing that Ottawa's response in the face of opposition will determine whether Canada can complete controversial resource projects.
Mr. Trudeau should not leave Alberta to lead the defence of the project that Ottawa has declared to be in the national interest, said Martha Hall Findlay, president of Calgary-based Canada West Foundation. Instead, Ottawa must send a strong message that neither protesters nor the B.C. government will be allowed to derail the expansion, she told the Energy Council of Canada meeting.
At the town hall session in Nanaimo last week, the Prime Minister was jeered when he defended the government's decision.
"It is in the national interest to move forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline and we will be moving forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline," Mr. Trudeau told a rowdy crowd.
"We will also protect the B.C. coast," he said. However, he added that the Liberal's vaunted $1.5-billion ocean-protection plan was contingent on the pipeline proceeding, a statement viewed as a threat by pipeline opponents.
Chief Chamberlain complained that the Prime Minister is "holding the ocean-protection plan hostage" to the pipeline project.
The government is failing in its pledge of reconciliation by approving the Trans Mountain expansion project over the objections of several local First Nation communities, he said. The government has committed to respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes the principle that First Nations people be afforded the right to free, prior and informed consent over projects that impact their traditional territory.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has said the UN principle provides for fuller consultation and partnership over decision-making, but does not provide any one Indigenous community with a veto over a project that is in the national interest.