George Rammell: My statement to Justice Affleck before being sentenced for being in contempt of his injunction

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      (George Rammell delivered the following statement to B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck. This came after the long-time Capilano University art instructor was arrested for violating a court injunction prohibiting protests at the gate of Kinder Morgan's Burnaby facility. Rammell pleaded guilty and was fined $500.) 

      Court File S-183541

      Trans Mountain Pipeline / defence

      To: Justice Affleck

      From: George Rammell, arrested March 22nd.

      I’m pleading guilty to the charge of criminal contempt for protesting at the gates of Kinder Morgan’s oil tank farm in Burnaby on March 22nd , 2018.

      I originally risked arrest along with my fellow educators, scientists, doctors, students, and citizens from all walks of life that have never been arrested before. We were there because we saw a multitude of injustices perpetuated by our prime minister and Kinder Morgan to push this reckless pipeline expansion forward at the expense of Aboriginal nations, animal species and the environment. Our actions at Kinder Morgan’s gates were necessary to help press the pause button until real justice is restored.

      I invested a decade of my formative years helping the modernist Haida artist Bill Reid, working with him as a studio sculptor. I valued the relationship because of his wisdom and willingness to share ideas throughout our 10 years in the studio.

      In 1986 Bill Reid stopped his work on his Spirit of Haida Gwaii, his spirit-canoe for the Canadian Embassy in Washington in protest of clear-cut logging on Lyell Island on Haida Gwaii, he then joined a blockade and was arrested with 72 Haida.

      Our federal government was ignoring Haida land claims and supporting a logging company that was planning to clear-cut 70 percent of the old-growth forest. This clear-cutting would have destroyed the islands' salmon streams. The eventual successful protection of Lyell Island became instrumental to the launch of the cooperatively managed Gwaii Haanus National Park and contributed to self-sufficient and sustainable resource policies for the Haida Nation.

      Bill Reid often spoke of Indigenous west coast cultures that didn’t write documents; therefore the potlatch is the heartbeat of Indigenous west coast cultures, it’s the equivalent to our western court system. The potlatch is where title of land and names are proclaimed orally and through regalia, art, and dance. Our government’s potlatch prohibition was still in place during my lifetime, when Aboriginal people had no right to vote and any Aboriginal person caught potlatching or hiring a lawyer could be sent to Oakalla prison for two years.

      It was under this Canadian apartheid system that the first pipeline was built from the Alberta tarsands to Burrard Inlet in the early 1950s. The Tsleil-Waututh were vehemently opposed to it then as they are to Kinder Morgan’s current proposed expansion. Many Aboriginal nations in B.C. were not adequately consulted or warned of the dangers of the proposed massive increase in dangerous diluted bitumen moving through their territorial lands and waters. These people’s rights are being violated by our own federal government that espouses to be championing reconciliation, yet we’re expected to stand idly by in complicity.

      There were Tsleil-Waututh students in my classes at Capilano University for decades and I know how hard they’ve been working to restore their marine environment of Burrard Inlet from industrial pollution. They’re finally re-establishing the kelp beds, but that will all be lost in a matter of hours with a bitumen spill, then what will they have to live for?

      Justice Affleck, at the launch of your hearings you spoke of the freedoms we all enjoy in Canada and how our laws should not be abused. You spoke highly of our right to free speech and our right to protest, and how these rights exist because of our democracy. You spoke of the rule of law, and when laws are broken—such as violations of your injunction that protects Kinder Morgan—how there must be consequences and penalties to maintain civility.

      Our federal government is supporting broad freedoms for Kinder Morgan, freedoms that don’t apply to First Nations and non-Aboriginal citizens who, like myself, live on Burrard Inlet. Aboriginal rights are being violated while our Federal government espouses to be championing reconciliation. 

      I value our democracy and justice system, and I admire important judges with discretionary powers, such as Justice Thomas Berger who, when he was asked to assess the impact of the proposed MacKenzie Valley pipeline in 1972, invested three years hearing the concerns of 14 Nations in 35 communities. He then understood the issues and he finally concluded (much to prime minister Jean Chrétien’s dismay), that the pipeline should not proceed until Native land claims are settled.

      Historically, judges have taken vastly different approaches to justice. Your first predecessor, Chief Justice Mathew Baillie Begbie, owned land in colonial British Columbia, yet he didn’t believe any Aboriginal people should own land unless the Queen bequeathed it to them. Justin Trudeau recently apologized for Begbie’s hanging of Chilcotin chiefs for defending their land during the Gold Rush; now it’s the oil rush and Trudeau has moved reconciliation to the back of the bus because it’s impeding this corporate megaproject.

      Last year, all the arrested protesters at the drill site on the west side of Burnaby Mountain were exonerated because Kinder Morgan extended its allotted work boundary with false GPS surveys. This is consistent with this company’s attitude of entitlement.

      Has a comprehensive survey been done to establish if Kinder Morgan’s fence line around the oil-tank farm is even within Burnaby’s original land-use allotment?

      Justice Affleck, I believe your injunction is a complicit part of the shield allowing Kinder Morgan, a filthy company with a horrible track record, to proceed without permits from municipalities. I believe this entire court process is placing the cart before the horse.

      Until the Supreme Court weighs in on outstanding Aboriginal, provincial, and municipal court challenges and appeals, this whole process should be put on ice.

      Please use your discretion to reserve judgement on our actions. Let’s see how these legal challenges are resolved, then we’ll know whether we were wrong in defending those whose voices are being ignored.

      As Grand Chief Stewart Phillip states, “There is no social licence to proceed with the Trans Mountain expansion."