​Opinion: Sorry, Trans Mountain protesters, grandparents aren't above the law

Laurie Embree, 70, is arrested for violating Trans Mountain's court injunction at the Westridge Marine Terminal on June 19. Image: Burnaby Now

Chris Campbell is editor of the Burnaby Now and the New Westminster Record.

When Terry Christenson was arrested Wednesday after using a snorkel to sneak onto the grounds of the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby, a news release heralding this event called him a “protesting grandpa.”

Aside from the awesome James Bond move Christenson pulled to stage a protest against the Trans Mountain project, it’s the use of the “grandpa” title I want to discuss.

It’s been a common theme during a 12-month period filled with protests and arrests related to the pipeline.

Christenson also called himself a “tree-scaling grandpa” when he was arrested in April for violating a court injunction at the same terminal.

“I'm doing it for the grandkids of the world,” Christenson told Burnaby Now by phone from his perch at the time. “My grandkids are going to be much more impacted than me as young adults and I feel it's my duty to help protect future generations from climate change.”

I appreciate the sentiment. Baby Boomers often get criticized for not thinking of the future when opposing things like the transit referendum or density that theoretically would offer younger generations more affordable housing options.

How I don’t like the use of the “grandparent” theme when it comes to pipeline protests is when protesters claim that the judicial system is somehow unfairly picking on seniors.

A 70-year-old grandmother named Laurie Embree was arrested at an anti-pipeline protest in Burnaby in June 2018. At the time, I saw a lot of comments on social media and in letters to the editor to Burnaby Now complaining about how unfair it was that a “grandmother” was being arrested. “Why are they so threatened by a little old lady,” I remember one person asking.

I’ve seen a lot of these comments, especially after a wave of seniors were arrested last summer, and then charged and convicted for violating the court injunction barring them from disrupting work on Trans Mountain properties in Burnaby.

That produced a slew of comments talking about the age of the people involved and how unfair it was for them to be arrested.

Protest all you want – it doesn’t bother me – but age is no reason for not being arrested. Just because you are in your 70s and have grandkids doesn’t put you above the law. You might disagree with the injunction and I respect that – that’s a different argument - but it’s still the law and all people who don’t abide by it will be arrested – even seniors.

It’s an obvious type of framing that Trans Mountain opponents are trying to use to make the system look like bullies.

But it’s a weak argument, so maybe give it a rest. It’s not really swaying anyone who isn’t already opposed to the project.

Stick to better arguments against the pipeline, like the risks to the environment that even the National Energy Board admits are obvious.

Now that’s an argument I can get behind.

— Burnaby Now

Chris Campbell is the Editor of the Burnaby Now and the New Westminster Record. 

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