EssayHere Comes the Judge - 

Reflections of a Shameless Recidivist on Kinder Morgan, Site C, And Civil Disobedience

By Tom Sandborn

     Here is one way of looking at our current dilemma. We are living in a house engulfed in flames, and the fundamental choice we all have to make is whether or not to run toward the fire with buckets of water. If we fail to fight the climate change flames, and allow big petroleum to have its way with the planet, we might just as well be running toward the fire with buckets of gasoline.      

     As I write this column on August 20, the skies over Vancouver are dark with smoke from climate-change-linked forest fires raging across the province. Meanwhile, the polar icecaps continue to shrink, extreme events like floods and droughts mount up from one side of the world to the other and species go extinct at an alarming rate. These are desperate times and they call for desperate measures, including civil disobedience.

     Most weeks, more BC residents charged with criminal contempt of court will appear in the courts to be punished for their acts of civil disobedience committed to support calls from first nations as they try to prevent the violent home invasion of their territories being conducted during the expansion of the Trudeau Crudo pipeline, the Transmountain travesty formerly known as Kinder Morgan. (The image of preventing a violent home invasion came from second-generation eco- campaigner Barbara Stowe, whose parents helped found Greenpeace. Stowe and her brother were among the first protestors arrested at the Kinder Morgan gates in mid March.  

     So far, over 200 of us have answered the call and committed non-violent civil disobedience at the Kinder Morgan gates, with thousands committed to do so in the future.

     Full disclosure: I was arrested at the pipeline gates on March 19, and since then I have been convicted of criminal contempt of court. And, to make matters worse, unlike many of my co-accused, who were law abiding citizens driven to civil disobedience by the pipeline sponsors’ disregard for indigenous rights and the crisis level climate change impacts, the dangers of uncontrolled fires in the pipeline tanks farm on Burnaby mountain and the high degree of likelihood that one of the giant tankers that are predicted to leave Vancouver loaded with poisonous loads of tar sands bitumen on a daily basis will sink and deliver a death blow to many of the life forms that currently flourish in Vancouver harbour, I am a hardened recidivist.  In the past, I have been arrested for acts of civil disobedience committed to protest BC’s liquor control board selling apartheid-supporting South African wines and to respond to Canadian involvement in American imperial wars. So I do not approach this topic as a neutral observer.

     That said, despite my obvious bias here, let me make the case that civil disobedience is a legitimate response to the climate change crisis and to the ongoing betrayal by the Trudeau government of its election promises to work for reconciliation with First Nations. Those of us who tied ourselves to the Kinder Morgan gates or otherwise blocked entry to the site are a varied group- first nations leaders, students, retirees, workers and professionals. We committed our crimes to focus the public’s mind on the ongoing disaster represented by the pipeline expansion, and to support indigenous voices calling for that expansion to be cancelled. We acted because the environmental review process that OK’d the pipeline was flawed and failed to take many of the attendant dangers into account.     

     We acted in the spirit of Thoreau, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, choosing to break the law to help prevent a much greater crime being committed against first nations and the environment. Although the learned judge did not, in our trials, accept this argument, most of us feel we are on the right side of history in taking dramatic action to block the pipeline.

     I write today to encourage readers to consider joining us in taking bold action in the ongoing campaign to block the pipeline expansion and protect the environment. Please go to and sign up to take action. Some of you will not be able to risk arrest at this point, and everyone has to make judgments about what they can do. If you can’t risk arrest, sign a petition, attend a demonstration, donate to the groups fighting the pipeline or write letters to politicians and local newspapers. The only wrong decision is to do nothing.

     And while much of the province’s attention has been focused on the pipeline, indigenous people and settlers in the Peace River Valley are fighting against the proposed Site C dam. As detailed in the book reviews in this issue, the dam would be another instance of governments ignoring the voices of First Nations, local farmers and environmentalists to push through a project that will do immense damage. Please go to this webpage to learn about Site C and to volunteer to take action against it. As noted in the book reviews in this issue of the Columbia Journal, BC’s iconic politician and media figure Rafe Mair issued a call near the end of his life for civil disobedience to resist both the pipeline and the dam. If it was good enough for Rafe, and is requested by indigenous leaders, it is good enough for me, and I hope for you. Time is running out on the future humanity on this much-abused planet. The house is on fire. Please help fight the flames.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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