David Lavallee: How filming Kinder Morgan got me a visit from the RCMP’s anti-terrorism unit

This happened even before the passage of Bill C-51

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      In my new film, To the Ends of the Earth, I document the current scramble for extreme energy, also known as unconventional sources of oil and gas, and their environmental, economic, and social impact.

      To complete this documentary, I’ve spent the past three years travelling far and wide. I visited the Arctic Circle, on Baffin Island, to investigate the effects of oil exploration on marine mammals and the Inuit people. I also travelled to some of the most remote parts of northern B.C. and the Midwest of the United States, to tell the stories of people on the front lines of the battle against fracking for gas.

      When you’re making a film like this, you often have to take physical risks to get a shot, and deal with security forces working for industry. Whether there’s a law against it or not, these companies often don’t want the scrutiny that comes with their operations and facilities being captured on film.

      I learned this lesson the hard way while filming the Burnaby Mountain protests against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline last fall.

      During the height of the protests, I decided to use my drone camera to film the Kinder Morgan Westridge Marine Terminal, at the foot of Burnaby Mountain. Kinder Morgan staff called in my licence plate and the next day I had an RCMP national security anti-terrorism unit show up at my door.

      I wasn’t home, but they left a card and the next day we had a phone call, which I recorded.

      “What you are doing could be seen as a precursor to terrorist behavior,” the officer said to me. I countered this startling statement with a question: Had there ever been an eco-terrorist attack in Canadian history that had resulted in loss of life or property damage? He replied with an example from the 1980s, a group called the “Squamish Five”. I found it amusing that he had to go back to the 1980s, when I was young, to find a compelling example.

      Audio of David Lavallee's chat with the RCMP’s anti-terrorism unit.

      The fact that the specter of “eco-terrorism” haunts our governments and big corporations tells you something about the current era.

      In the film I feature an economist’s tool known as the resource pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, energy is easy to find, cheap to get, doesn’t require a lot of labour and energy—but as you move down the pyramid everything becomes more difficult, more costly, and it’s a sign that you need to begin some sort of transition.

      This transition has been geological—we have moved from free-flowing conventional oil to the heavy, dirty stuff like bitumen—but it has also been social. With this descent down the resource pyramid has come conflict and resistance against oil projects never before seen in North American history. Deborah Rogers, a financial analyst specializing in unconventional oil and gas that I interviewed in Texas, quantifies the costs of this to the industry: “Since 2011 we estimated that pipeline delays due to activism cost the industry about $19 billion.” Far from being an easily dismissed fringe element in society, “Blockadia”, to use Naomi Klein’s term (she appears in my film) is a force to be reckoned with.

      On Burnaby Mountain, we saw a hint of the moral and political power of Blockadia. That kind of popular protest is a great threat to these big corporations profiting off of extreme energy. Obviously they consider a filmmaker documenting it all to be a real threat.

      The scariest thing is that this happened back in November 2014, when Bill C-51 was still just a crazed Conservative idea, a bill in the early stages of its development, not yet tabled in the House of Commons. What will happen when it is in full force? Will the act of civil disobedience, or even the act of filmmaking, become an act of high treason?

      Democracy: that’s a concept we can all get behind. I hope we can all get behind the idea before it slips out of our grasp in Canada today.

      Watch the trailer for To the Ends of the Earth.
      David Lavallee is the director and producer of To the Ends of the Earth, a new documentary film that explores the rise of extreme energy and our necessary shift to a sustainable future. Check out the Indiegogo campaign at www.endsofearthfilm.com.




      Jun 30, 2015 at 6:59pm

      We're under military occupation by corporations that exist to do nothing but promote shareholder profit. The Government is effectively nothing more than a front for these corporations; indeed, it is the Government that allows corporations to exist. Corporations are dead things; it's sad that the living are expected to obey the dead.

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      Jun 30, 2015 at 8:18pm

      Well played David. Transparency is the antithesis of authoritarian conspiracy theories.


      Jun 30, 2015 at 8:45pm

      “What you are doing could be seen as a precursor to terrorist behavior".


      Perfect hindsight might have elicited this response:

      "What you are asking could be seen as a precursor to the RCMP becoming a corporate security force."

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      Jun 30, 2015 at 11:23pm

      Yep, we are all assumed to be nefarious plotters against the corporatacracy that rules us all, but ultimately we really do hold the power. We'd have to quit living like rats eating the ship they're on to use that power.

      Taoya Schaefer

      Jul 1, 2015 at 9:53am

      Terrorism is a convenient catch all term to demonize any protest the Harper government does not like. We have lost freedom of speech. It is a dark time in Canada.

      The great unwashed

      Jul 1, 2015 at 1:27pm

      Except today infrastructure is a target because lefties have made them a target, grow up


      Jul 2, 2015 at 8:43am

      You idiots need some meds. Pronto. Sick and twisted ideologies with warped views on reality. The world is laughing at you and your like. Have fun with conspiracies.

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      Jul 2, 2015 at 11:27am

      You are well named, Anonymous. Your comment is as generic as it is cynical. Is it hard to carry around all that emptiness?


      Jul 8, 2015 at 4:25pm

      We need Bill C-51 to fight rampant eco-terrorism in our midst. To be successful in this fight against domestic terrorism, we'll need (1) higher taxes to pay for more police, judges, and jails, (2) more guns, tanks, and bombs to fight the terrorists, (3) a suspension of rule of law so the terrorists can be held in jail for years without being charged, and (4) if the terrorists kill a soldier it's murder but if a soldier kills a terrorist it's justifiable homicide. Only when the police have the power to open fire on protestors and those who set up road blocks (by far the worst form of terrorism in Canada)will Canadian citizens be safe . I don't recognize the new Canada the Conservatives have created. It used to be so, so, so dangerous, but now it's really safe. We should all be thankful for the loss of rule of law to keep us safe from road-blocks and peaceful protests...

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      Check Your Facts

      Jul 9, 2015 at 11:50am

      Everyone is quick to forget the 4 bombings in 2008-2009 that the RCMP discouraged us from seeing as Terrorism, even though they could have treated it that way. Time after time the RCMP are not the fascist police force make them out to be. This guy was not arrested, he was told how his actions could be interpreted. If anything this incident and the 2008-2009 incidents in BC PROVE that the conspiracy theorists have a political agenda, not a moral one.

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