Playwright Mairy Beam draws on court records—and personal experience—to depict Trans Mountain resistance

Beam's docudrama, Irreparable Harm?, is part of the third installment of this year's Vancouver Fringe Festival

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      Environmental activist, playwright, and director Mairy Beam was very familiar with the court process before sitting down to write Irreparable Harm? A Tale of Trans Mountain Resistance.

      Beam, who prefers the pronoun "they", was arrested in Burnaby in 2018 for violating a B.C. Supreme Court injunction keeping demonstrators away from the pipeline-construction project.

      In addition, Beam and fellow activist Rita Wong wrote an eight-page legal application in 2019 requesting that Justice Kenneth Affleck recuse himself "due to a reasonable apprehension of bias by informed observers".

      Affleck rejected the application and Beam was sentenced to 28 days under house arrest. Wong ended up being sentenced to 28 days in prison.

      So for the docudrama Irreparable Harm? A Tale of Trans Mountain Resistance, Beam relied on actual court transcripts for some of the dialogue.

      Beam's play is being performed in the third installment of this year's Vancouver Fringe Festival.

      "We really want to engage the hearts and minds of the people that come—and encourage them to be more active," Beam tells the Georgia Straight by phone. "You know, either support causes financially or come to rallies or just be more aware... I think it’s a very relevant play 'cause of what’s happening right now in our part of the world.”

      It's set in a courtroom but Beam offers assurances that it's far from an austere dissertation of the facts.

      The show includes a video presentation of Indigenous media artist Ostwelve rapping at one of the rallies against the pipeline. Plus, the narrator of the show encounters a surprise, which Beam doesn't want to give away in advance.

      Justice Affleck is played by actor Karl Perrin. Elan Ross Gibson plays the main character and codirected the play.

      The other actors are Vivian Davidson, Nola Wuttunnee, Simon Challenger, Guy Castonguay, and Mitchel Saddleback.

      The phrase "irreparable harm" refers to Trans Mountain's initial lawsuit against a citizens' group, Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion, which opposed the pipeline expansion.

      The corporation, like many others before it, argued that the activists were causing "irreparable harm".

      "So then my question in the play is: who actually is causing irreparable harm?" Beam says. "Is it the activists or is it Trans Mountain.

      A Yellowhead Institute survey of more than 100 cases of injunctions demonstrated a huge discrepancy in the success rate of corporations in comparison to First Nations. 

      It showed that corporations were successful in 76 percent of court-injunction applications against First Nations.

      However, only 19 percent of injunction applications filed by First Nations succeeded.

      "So there's a real bias in the system toward corporations," Beam says. "And it was an eye-opener going through the court system and understanding that."

      In 2018, the federal government bought Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline system for $4.5 billion. The Trudeau government is proceeding with the $12.6-billion expansion.

      Once it's completed, it will pump an additional 890,000 barrels of diluted bitumen a day from Alberta to the Lower Mainland.

      That will result in a seven-fold increase in oil-tanker traffic in the Salish Sea—if this project turns out to be economically viable.

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