After several weeks being subjected to protests, harassment, and alleged assault; Kinder Morgan took action last Friday and served a group of Burnaby, BC protesters with a lawsuit. The company claims protesters have caused $5.8 million damage. That sounds like a lot of money, defendants and their supporters have complained it’s outrageous- simultaneously ignoring KM’s lost business while patting themselves on the back that less oil is flowing out of Alberta.
Faced with a multi-million dollar lawsuit, the protesters have been bravely defiant. Ignoring the potentially high price of her 15 minutes of fame, defendant defendant Lynn Quarmby bragged saying “I don’t think they could’ve bought themselves worse publicity”. Why are they so confident? Rules for Radicals gives us the answer, “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive”- in this case, the positive is all of the “free” publicity.
So, as we wait for the judge’s decision, we should expect a full-on public relations war the next few weeks. The protesters have already gone into overdrive trying reframe the situation to their benefit. Outside of claiming their dubious victory one of their key messages was published in the protester friendly Vancouver Observer. The headline proclaimed ‘We are not radicals’ – Kinder Morgan lawsuit defendants speak out. But how true is that statement?
SFU Professor Lynn Quarmby: Lion or Lamb?
Lynne Quarmby’s biography paints the picture of a gentle soul, outlining her “evolution from a kid playing in tide pools through the twists and turns of an academic career to the happy place of the Quarmby Lab“. It goes on to explain her focus on Chlamydomonas – “because there is no better model on earth for studying cilia and flagella”. Reading her coverage in the media, Quarmby is likely to be the last person one would expect to be conspiring with militants and anarchists. “I’m not some extreme radical – just a regular citizen,” as she explained to the Observer’s Mychaylo Prystupa.
But as we’ve learned over the past few years, the Observer is Vancouver’s one-stop-shop for “truthiness”- one should always be cautious when reading publication whose founder misrepresented herself as a Pulitzer nominee. Quarmby might be a gentle soul, it only takes is a few minutes on Google to realize there’s also a bit of a lion hiding behind Quarmby’s timid lamb. Burnaby Mountain wasn’t her first rodeo.
Quarmby was featured in a September 2012 Tyee story titled I Broke the Law to Defeat Climate Change. The article explained how Quarmby was arrested in May 2012 as part of the “White Rock 13”, a group of intrepid protesters who used their bodies to block a train track to protest it carrying coal. The Tyee described the protest as “the most dramatic act of civil disobedience against climate change yet in the Lower Mainland”.
Quarmby explained at the start of her interview that she’s not a “professional protester”, but she followed that statement up by skilfully shovelling anti-police propaganda as only the best of them could- as if she believed the RCMP would use gas to displace 15 peaceful protesters:
“I had four water bottles in my backpack in case there was tear gas, and a couple handkerchiefs to cover my face”
[As you’d expect, they didn’t- instead using the traditional tactic of restraining the protesters with zip ties and carefully guiding them away.]
Next, after comparing her action to the fight against slavery, Quarmby encourages others to follow her course and engage in acts of civil disobedience. This may be highly significant to her case. Part of her defence is that she wasn’t an active participant in the blockade – Kinder Morgan’s position is likely to be that she encouraged others to slow down their project.
Ignoring this obvious fact, Quarmby evades logic explaining her (official) theory about why the company has “targeted” her in the lawsuit saying, “Maybe it’s because I’m reasonable and level and just speaking about the scientific realities of climate change.” It’s at this point that Quarmby loses her credibility. She’s an educated woman, a biochemistry professor with a PhD, it’s hard to believe she’s that clueless- if so, god help SFU’s students.
SFU Associate Alan Dutton: Intrepid Nazi Hunter
Alan Dutton is an associate of the SFU Institute For The Humanities. He began his career as a controversial anti-racism activist, sometimes working with radical organizations including an allegedly violent group of far-left Toronto vigilante Nazi hunters called Anti-Racist Action. Critics have complained that Dutton has tried to shut-down their right to free speech. One of those critics, and a target of Dutton’s campaigns, was white nationalist Paul Fromm (not the type of guy most people would invite for afternoon tea).
But government funding has dried up for anti-racism activists, the prevalence of right-wing racist organizations appears to be in the decline, and it doesn’t look like Dutton has an interest in pursuing left-wing racists. So with his old market in decline, Dutton has recreated himself as an environmental crusader. His biography on SFU’s website explains how he’s:
“now involved with a number of environmental groups, organizing demonstrations, rallies and meetings to stop the shipment of diluted tar sands from Alberta and the expansion of coal shipments from the Port of Vancouver”.
Dutton is now one of the most visible members of BROKE Burnaby- at least, Kinder Morgan thinks so- they named him on their lawsuit “in his personal capacity as a representative of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion” (BROKE). Reading through BROKE’s mailing list, it appears KM’s lawyers got it right- in one posting he explains to the group how they “need to have as many people as possible in the clear cut area on Burnaby Mountain”- the purpose of all of those people was to interfere with KM’s work crews.
Next, in a curious assault on logic and common sense, Dutton goes on to explain how blocking KM staff from doing their jobs:
“is not civil disobedience, but exercising the right to use Conservation Land to stop it’s destruction”.
What was this guy thinking? And where did he get this poorly thought out advice? The answer may come from the last part of his posting:
“It is my understanding that Josh Patterson, LL.B. of the Civil Liberties Association, and formerly of a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, will meet with demonstrators at the clearing site on Burnaby Mountain to conduct a discussion of the right to demonstrate and to stop the destruction of Conservation Land.”
Quarmby said the exact opposite in one of her interviews with the Vancouver Observer:
“Civil disobedience means peacefully putting your body in the way of an unjust event, and an unjust law. And I was 100% prepared for that.”
But even if the BCCLA (a dubious organization at best) did provide Dutton with this dubious advice, one would think he’d know better than that. Like Quarmby, this isn’t Dutton’s first time around the block- research indicates he’s been organizing protests since the 1980’s.
Dutton hasn’t always expressed such extreme views- in fact when he organized a 1993 Vancouver mobilization against the Heritage Front (working closely with radical groups including the International Socialists), he was criticised by the Trotskyist League for being too milquetoast. They were displeased with his insistence the protest’s goal was only to protest and not to physically attack their rival.
In an interview published in the Observer on Wednesday, Dutton explained how his fellow members of BROKE aren’t professional protesters:
“The people who are protesting are ordinary residents – who come from a broad cross section of the community, and they have one common concern… that the proposed pipeline by Kinder Morgan does not proceed,”
If we’re to accept what Dutton says here as fact, it doesn’t paint a very encouraging picture. Here we have a man with decades of experience as an activist explaining to “ordinary residents” that it’s not an act of civil disobedience to interfere with KM’s government granted right to conduct business. Isn’t that incredibly irresponsible? What happens when someone decides to name them in a multi-million dollar lawsuit?
That said, as we’ll explore in Part II, BROKE isn’t as grassroots as they would like us to believe.
SFU Professor Stephen Collis: Sometimes I Feel Like A Nut
When the Vancouver Observer’s Mychaylo Prystupa tried to frame the protesters as not being radical, he used the fact that two of the defendants are SFU professors- after all, there’s no such thing as a radical professor, right? There’s probably no better example of how biased the Observer’s reporting was than SFU English professor Stephen Collis. We’ll talk about how far Collis will go to protect people who profess the use of violence in Part III- for now we’ll discuss some of his other radical views.
Collis is a poet, professor, and he’s on the steering committee of SFU’s Institute for the Humanities. In 2012, he claimed to be on the steering committee of the Union for Radical Political Economics. He’s also a member of the Council of Canadians (a militant NGO that was directly responsible for enabling the violence at the 2010 Olympics), and of the militant anarchist group Rising Tide.
[We’ll discuss both organizations more in Part II (NGOs) and Part III (violence and militancy)]
It’s debatable whether Collis is a “professional” protester or not. On the one hand he has a day job teaching at SFU; but outside of his teaching hours, Collis’ work has been deeply focussed on protests and activism. Take his books for example, the vast majority are about protests, anarchism and revolution:
- Dispatches from the Occupation: A series of Collis’ essays about the Occupy movement
- Anarchive: “Reworks the familiar story of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the anarchist uprising that burst forth in its midst”
- To The Barricades: “historical and contemporary scenes of revolt, from nineteenth-century Parisian street barricades to twenty-first-century occupations and street marches”
- The Commons: “An anarchy-inspired exploration of how commonly-held lands were “privatized” in the English countryside, shifting along the active seam between poetry and revolution”.
There was some interesting news from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week. Oxford University professor Myles Allen, one of the authors of a new IPCC report, explained to reporters that environmental groups have been too “alarmist”. Explaining that some of the claims we hear coming from NGOs “have undoubtedly been exaggerated”- adding to this he said “I think alarmism on any issue is unhelpful”.
Stephen Collis is one of the alarmists Myles Allen was talking about. In his paper Scenarios From Poems I Will Not Have Written, he goes as far as to compare climate change to global thermonuclear war- calling it “mutually assured destruction”. Collis also explains his (and many other alarmist’s) claim that we shouldn’t be extracting more oil from the ground:
“Locked in climate change is in part based on the fact that there is enough carbon still in the ground, and yet identified, calculated, speculated upon, given value form, sold and invested before it is even removed, to fry us all well and truly. That is, it’s [sic] mining is financially “locked in, ”an asset, already part of the bottom line, enough to push us past CO2 limits scientists have identified as limits to a liveable planet.”
Looking past the English professor’s misuse of the word “it’s”, there’s a bigger problem with his statement. In the same story where Myles Allen warned us about alarmist NGOs, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri was quoted dismissing the claim we can’t take any more oil out of the ground; explaining, “I don’t think one can translate the findings into fossil fuel assets becoming redundant”.
SFU Institute for the Humanities: Nutty professors, nuttier department?
After researching and charting out the people and organizations behind the Kinder Morgan protests there’s one group that sticks out like a store middle finger. SFU’s Institute for the Humanities was founded in 1983, their webpage describes the organization as “a home for research, public programming and for the development of ideas concerning social issues,” and explains how they focus on four themes “humanities and modernity; community education; cultural roots of violence and non violence; human rights and democratic development”.
After BROKE Burnaby and the Council of Canadians, the institute has the distinction of having the third largest number of participants in the Kinder Morgan protests:
- Stephen Collis is on the institute’s steering committee, the institute’s director Samir Gandesha explained in a letter to the university’s president that Collis has been “very active” the past three years. Collis has been using his SFU email address to communicate with fellow protesters.
- Alan Dutton has been an associate for a little over a year.
- Kathy Mezei is Professor Emeritus in the SFU Department of Humanities, and an associate in the institute. Mezei is also a member of BROKE Burnaby, where she uses her SFU email address to communicate with the group.
- Joe Keithley is the front man for the punk band DOA, and an associate with the institute. Keithley participated in a fundraiser called Sing Out and Stand Up for Burnaby Mountain on November 8th. Unfortunately for BROKE, they only raised $193.80. (We’ll talk more about this concert in Part III)
- Robert Hackett is a professor of communications at SFU and an associate with the institute. There’s no evidence Hackett participated in the protests but he’s been an outspoken opponent of the pipeline project- spreading the fear that his townhouse unit could be “taken away by eminent domain” (KM’s NEB testimony said the planned route was nowhere near him). In January 2014 Hackett used his SFU email address to promote NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s (now defunct) LetBCDecide.ca- an effort to help as many Burnaby residents as possible to sign-up to contribute to the NEB hearings.[Saul Alinsky’s Rule #4: “If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters”.]
Samir Gandesha is an associate professor at SFU’s Department of the Humanities, he’s the institute’s director and has been on their steering committee since 2004. Gandesha’s politics are clearly left-wing. He donated to COPE Vancouver; a municipal political party whose leaders have been arrested for assault at a protest, supported cop-baiting thugs, and helped lead the Oppenheimer Park occupation. Gandesha has also been active with the Platypus Affiliated Society- a Marxist group that describes its philosophy as “a synthesis of Trotskyism and Frankfurt School Critical Theory”.
There’s no evidence Gandesha has been up protesting on Burnaby Mountain but research shows he strongly supports the “resistance”- and the institute has provided protesters with resources and support. On March 27, 2013 the institute sponsored and hosted a BROKE Burnaby town hall about The Economics of Oil Pipelines and Tankers– the event was co-sponsored by the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, and ForestEthics (both will be covered in Part II). Gandesha was a featured speaker; others included former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan, Ben West of ForestEthics, and BROKE member Tara Bonham (of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver).
In October 2013 the institute sponsored a talk titled Pipelines and The Politics of Sabotage. There’s a recording of it here– there’s a fascinating comparison of attacks on computer networks and pipelines (and how it’s all about attacking capitalism).
Gandesha wrote a letter to SFU president Andrew Petter On November 5th, asking for the university to officially support the three members of the institute (and Quimby) who were named in Kinder Morgan’s lawsuit. After explaining to Petter how the institute contributes to the president’s goal to make SFU “research-driven, student-centered and community-engaged,”Gandesha explains his reasoning why the school should support them:
“It is precisely because the Institute takes this vision of our university so seriously that I am compelled to voice our profound concerns about the current legal action brought by Trans Mountain Pipeline, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, against five brave defenders of the conservation lands of Burnaby Mountain.”
Yes, brave defenders indeed! Defendant Mia Nissen’s swears and insults, and Adam Gold’s stalking and blowing megaphones in the faces of KM workers were worthy of the kind of praise they gave to Gandhi! Well, perhaps at the Institute for the Humanities they are.
Next, Gandesha makes statements that may leave parents hesitant to send their kids to SFU:
“We believe this creates real dilemmas for all institutions of higher education in this province, but ours in particular because it fundamentally limits SFU faculty’s ability to execute the university’s mission of being genuinely “research-driven, student-centered and community-engaged.” Many of us teach our students about the theory and practice of democracy across various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences…”
In Gandesha’s mind, KM’s request that the protesters stop assaulting their staff and illegally blocking them from working is an assault on academic freedom! But, will president Andrew Petter agree with him? And, will parents really want their kids to be taught by such nutty professors?
The last important observation to share about the institute gives us an example of their coziness with the militant side of activism. In January 2014 they hosted and sponsored the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society Strategy Session, part of an expensive cross-country speaking tour by (supposedly grassroots) New Brunswick anti-fracking activists who were arrested for their militant protest. You may remember the Molotov cocktails, burning police cars, guns & improvised explosives, and outright lies connected to this protest.
Co-sponsors of the event included a who’s who of militants including No One Is Illegal (Harsha Walia participated), Council of Canadians, Rising Tide, SFPIRG, and the racist hate group Native Youth Movement.
Parents: Before You Decide To Withdraw Your Kids…
This is the point of the story where parents whose children are attending SFU might be considering withdrawing them- not so soon!
On November 7th SFU president Andrew Petter responded to people’s request that he support the protesters- first explaining his support of intellectual and academic freedom- but with one important caveat (he used to be Attorney General, Petter knows what he’s talking about):
“An underlying principle of that vision commits SFU to being “an open and inclusive university whose foundation is intellectual and academic freedom.” As such, we will always support the rights of our faculty members to engage in free speech and peaceful protest within the limits of the law. Not only are such rights guaranteed by Canada’s constitution, but they are as vital to academic endeavours as they are to democratic systems.”
Yes, it’s okay to protest peacefully, but no (sane) institution would publicly support members who are intentionally breaking the law- that would be an irresponsible act, opening the school to legal liabilities.
Petter expands on this further down in the letter:
“On the issue of civil disobedience, I recognize that the decision to engage in such action is a deeply personal and political one that individuals make knowing the risks and consequences. Having said this, the university cannot support actions that are contrary to law.
Where questions arise about the legality of any protest, the university must leave it to the legal system to decide on such matters. While the university will not interfere with the rights of faculty, staff or students to act upon their deeply held personal beliefs, it is not in a position to ameliorate the financial or legal consequences of such action. Nor would it be appropriate for the university to comment on legal matters that are before the courts.”
So there you have it folks, the Institute for the Humanities’ position on supporting the protester’s civil disobedience is in direct conflict with the president’s! It will be interesting to see how this plays out, Petter was clear he won’t interfere with individual’s rights to act on their convictions- but will he allow the institute to continue its institutional support for the defendants?
This should be fun to watch…
One last interesting note on this letter. When a number of students and staff signed a letter supporting the defendants, the Vancouver Observer pounced on the story faster than a TIDES Canada fundraiser on a rich widow with terminal cancer. But, curiously, when Andrew Petter outlined his opposition to the institute’s request, they neglected to report on that story. It’s protests like this that bring us transparency on which media sources we should trust or not…
There’s something funny going on at SFU. Well, not really all that funny if you’re a parent of a humanities student- who wants their kids taught by people who twist reality like this? That said, parents raising red diaper babies will probably love sending their kids to participate with the institute- sounds like a great place to learn about Trotskyite militance, and anachronistic political theory!
Next, in Part II of the series, we’ll start digging into the NGOs and churches sitting in the background. Despite the protester’s claims to be grassroots, it appears there are more professional protesters gravitating towards Burnaby Mountain than soccer moms and Nascar dads.
Expect Part II to be released no later than next Monday- if you’re impatient, spend some more time looking through the chart, there have been a lot of new additions since it was released this weekend.
Part II is now complete: Please click here to read it