Civil Disobedience as a Response to Fossil Fuel Expansion

On September 9th, 2021, I was arrested in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, as part of an inter-faith prayer circle direct action. On that day, a group of us entered an active work zone in a forested area in Burnaby, British Columbia (BC), effectively stopping tree cutting in preparation for construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX).

We sat in prayer and meditation, and sang songs honouring the sacredness of water, in order to make the statement that this desecration of Mother Earth must stop. This expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure will result in an increase in fossil fuel emissions, at a time when the science is abundantly clear that to maintain a liveable planet we need to transition away from burning fossil fuels.

As a person of faith, I am mindful of the moral imperative to think seven generations into the future when making decisions. We are called to leave the world in a condition that will continue to support life as we know it, for present and future generations. This is clearly not happening. The continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, such as TMX, during a declared climate emergency, is in violation of this moral imperative.

We are in uncharted territory. Climate change is irreversibly altering life on Earth, and threatening humanity’s ability to survive.

“My heart breaks with the knowledge of the damage that has already been done… But we can do something.”

 

I am a mother of two adult children. Access to the basic requirements of life such as clean water, air, and food should be their birthright. They are the first generation ever facing the reality that this birthright is being stolen, by a capitalist, colonial system that allows greed and profit to take precedence over people and planet.

The shameful tragedy is that we have known for decades that we are extracting and consuming fossil fuels at a rate that far exceeds Earth’s capacity to maintain a stable climate, yet this has been allowed to continue. NO MORE. Those of us who are awake will no longer allow this system to continue. We will not stand by and do nothing while one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction within decades—more than ever before in human history—as a direct result of human activity.1

My heart breaks with the knowledge of the damage that has already been done, for the lives we can never bring back. I grieve the reality that life as we have known it is not something my children and future generations can be assured of. But we can do something. We can wake up and refuse to allow the system that perpetuates this destruction to continue.

I have pursued many different avenues to express my opposition to the TMX:

  • I co-founded the community organization Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion in 2012, which is still active to this day.
  • I applied to be an intervener in the National Energy Board hearings in January 2014, on the basis of my deep concern about potential adverse impacts this project would have on myself and my family. The Board rejected my application to participate as an intervener and I was not even allowed to submit a letter of comment.
  • I spoke before the Ministerial Panel appointed by the Trudeau government after their election in 2016.
  • I have met with my member of Parliament, written dozens of letters, and signed countless petitions urging the government to cancel this project.
  • I have organized and attended numerous marches and rallies in protest of this project.

At this point, with construction of the TMX proceeding, I feel I have no option left to express my deeply held conscientious objection, other than nonviolent civil disobedience.

I experienced what I would call a spiritual leading to take action by witnessing against the expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure and the resulting destruction to the earth caused by increased carbon emissions.

It was vitally important for me to know that I had the full support of my spiritual community behind me in taking this action. I asked for and received a clearness committee from my Vancouver Monthly Meeting, which helped me discern the rightness of moving forward to risk arrest. Once clarity was reached, my committee continued on as a committee of care. I felt very held by my Meeting, as well as by Friends from across Canada who sent supportive messages.

I am charged with criminal contempt of court for defying an injunction that was granted by the courts to Trans Mountain. The severity of the sentences has escalated in an attempt to deter people from protesting. What began three and a half years ago as a $500 fine and community service is now two to four weeks in prison. That’s what those of us being arrested now are facing.

I believe in the rule of law as a principle that defines the rights and responsibilities of people to coexist peacefully in society. I do not take lightly my decision to break the law by peacefully participating in a prayer circle blocking the construction of the TMX. However, my conscience compels me to act in the most powerful way that I can, to prevent any further destruction of whatever chance is left for a liveable world for my children and future generations.

The action I am taking is also in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of this land, who do not give their consent to this project.2 I recognize that this territory where I live, the city of Burnaby, where this pipeline is being built, has been the home of the Coast Salish people since time immemorial. Canada fully endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN Declaration sets out an explicit requirement to obtain free, prior and informed consent. It affirms the rights of Indigenous peoples to make their own decisions about their lives, territories, and futures, and to decide according to their own laws, customs, and traditions whether a project should proceed, be modified, or be rejected.3

Many strong and courageous people have walked this path before me. They too have stood before the National Energy Board, Ministerial Panel, and courts of law, and brought compelling scientific evidence that demonstrates the dangers and folly of proceeding with the TMX. The evidence is available for anyone who wishes to look.

My decision to engage in peaceful civil disobedience is a deeply personal one. It is one that is motivated by my love for creation and concern for the future of my children and life on Earth. I am witnessing to the truth that Earth is a finite planet, with a limited capacity to sustain life. I have learned that life on Earth involves a reciprocal relationship, and we have forgotten how to pay attention to taking care of this balance.

I am just one person, but I know that I am part of a much larger tide, and I believe that tide is turning. That we cannot continue on the course we are currently on is obvious, and yet the system remains in place that allows it to continue. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Too much has already been lost. Let us see what love can do.

Ruth Walmsley is a member of Vancouver Meeting. She was one of the speakers at an event CFSC hosted in November 2021 to share stories, strategies, and answer questions about nonviolent direct action. Watch a recording at https://QuakerService.ca/PeacefulProtest

  1. UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’, May 6, 2019, https://bit.ly/UNNatureDecline
  2. Chief Maureen Thomas, “Statement from Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust on Direct Action,” Feb 6, 2018, https://bit.ly/Tsleil-Waututh
  3. Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Feb 12, 2019, https://QuakerService.ca/FPIC