Statement At Sentencing for Violating TransMountain Injunction: Murray Reiss

Murray Reiss


[Arrested on March 23, 2018, Reiss pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court and was sentenced to 25 hours community service.]


I want to thank you, Your Honour, for allowing this opportunity to explain why I took the action for which I am pleading guilty.


The first time I committed civil disobedience I was 19, it was 1964, and the existential threat was nuclear war. I sat on a dirt road in rural Quebec with a group of activists attempting to prevent access to an Royal Canadian Air Force station armed with dozens of nuclear missiles.


I'm now 72. On March 23 I stood in front of another gate, attempting to stop construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline.


It seems like nothing less than the impending end of the world gets me to put my body on the line.


I wish I was exaggerating. Tripling the Trans Mountain pipeline's capacity will recklessly escalate tar sands extraction. James Hansen, who knows as much about the science of climate change as anyone, has stated, repeatedly: maximum tar sands exploitation puts civilization at risk.


Every molecule of carbon dioxide we add to the atmosphere today remains there for generations. The laws of physics are non-negotiable; the notion of selling more fossil fuels today to pay for climate action tomorrow is sheer delusion. By that "tomorrow" — which somehow never comes — runaway global warming will be locked into the system. Already every year — almost every month — sets a new record for heat, for flooding, for wildfires, drought.


How could I not oppose this pipeline, whose sole purpose is to gouge ever more bitumen from the ancestral lands of Lubicon, Mikisew and Beaver Lake Cree, Athabasca and Prairie Chipewyan First Nations? Whose existence would make a mockery of Canada's pledges of climate action in the Paris Agreement and decolonization in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Whose construction would mean turning our back on negotiating free, prior and informed consent with First Nations, with whom we must learn to share this land. And that would vastly increase tanker traffic in the Salish Sea, making a disastrous diluted bitumen spill inevitable.


Drastically escalating tar sands extraction would be no less ruinous locally than globally. It would leave behind even more mercury in rivers and lakes, even more arsenic and lead for Cree and Chipewyan First Nations to find in the fish they catch, in the moose they eat, in the water they drink and in the air they breathe. There is simply no place on a liveable planet for this totally unnecessary, utterly destructive, climate-destabilizing pipeline carrying the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive oil in the world.


I'll conclude my statement with a short poem I wrote when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister. Much to my regret, it needs no updating.



Gross Domestic Product 


Our prime minister's scouring

the Arctic for natural resources—

zinc and copper, nickel,

lead—her whole hoarded mineral wealth

to be ripped from the thawing earth

and shipped to China

and I can't help but think of the gold

pried loose

from my grandfather's teeth, the hair

yanked free

from my grandmother's scalp,

the fat they rendered

from my cousin's plump tuchus.

Never again, we promise each other

after every new debauch,

and might even mean it for that moment —

but we don't know how

to stop, dear planet,

we are sore in need of help.

Could you round up a few

of your closest friends,

sit us down, lock the doors,

seal the windows, and stage

an intervention

on our behalf?


Oh. You already did?


The floods, the hurricanes,

wildfires, droughts?—


Oh. You already did.


            (From Cemetery Compost, Frontenac House, Calgary, 2016)


Photo: Murray Reiss at the gate into the TransMountain Pipelines terminal in Burnaby, BC on March 23, 2018