June 3, 2018
Makeda Martin stands in the middle of a plywood shack on the side of the road making a meal fit for the most finicky of foodies.
On the menu: Buffalo meatballs, spinach and cilantro salad, and salmon risotto. All made from ingredients she says were supplied by nearby residents in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, B.C.
“We feel so safe and welcome here,” says the tall, lanky 55-year-old, hand on her hip.
The shack is part of a larger installment called Camp Cloud, which is home to up to 20 protesters. The camp sits across the street from a Kinder Morgan facility — the battleground of dozens of protests against the Trans Mountain expansion project.
Hundreds of people, including Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, have been arrested here.
Camp Cloud sits across the street from Forest Grove — a quiet, tree-lined suburban neighbourhood where gangly-limbed children in shorts roam cul-de-sacs, playing after school.
Many residents oppose the pipeline project, but that doesn’t mean they support the camp and the protesters.
Some are concerned about the growing number of protesters living by the side of the road. They say there have already been skirmishes between residents and protesters and they worry about sanitation issues and fires.
Hundreds of people say they want the city to disband the camp. But those who live there say they have no intention of leaving.
“We are humble, but we are many. And we believe in this fight,” Martin said from inside a plywood shack at the camp on Thursday.
May Chu, 38, lives a five minutes drive from Camp Cloud, and has participated in some of the anti-pipeline protests that have taken place in Burnaby and Vancouver, often taking her two kids along with her.
But Chu’s concerns about the camp have grown as the site has gotten bigger.
“It’s just, in my opinion, an accident waiting to happen."
The camp, which began as just a trailer on the side of the road, has become a small shanty town of assorted semi-permanent structures adorned with anti-pipeline slogans.
Chu said she’s worried campfires and cigarette butts could ignite a brush fire that could quickly spread. She also points out that the camp hugs the blind corner of a hairpin turn, with protesters often milling about on the road.
Some residents on a neighbourhood Facebook group have complained about verbal altercations between residents and the protesters.
Chu said Camp Cloud is getting too big and doesn't want it to grow.
She prefers how things are run at the nearby Watch House — another protest camp down the road that’s organized by members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation.
Unlike Camp Cloud, the Watch House is a single structure nestled in the woods. Nearby, a support camp with a few large tents and an RV sit in a neat row in a sports field, powered by solar panels.
The contentious nature of the pipeline debate keeps Chu and others like her from speaking out too loudly about her opinions.
“We’ve been viewed as pro-pipeline, which is completely not the case. We’re just concerned about safety,” she said.
Safety vs. right to protest
Last month, a group of locals delivered a petition to Burnaby city council asking the municipality to remove both camps. But the city says it doesn’t have the legal capacity to do so. A B.C. Supreme Court injunction has allowed them to remain in place.
"We have to balance the rights to peaceful protest and also the neighbourhood concerns,” said Burnaby city manager Lambert Chu.
Chu says the city has installed concrete barriers to separate the camp from the road. City staff have also met with residents of both camps to ensure the fires are maintained safely and the camp is sanitary, Chu said.
Protester Makeda Martin insists Camp Cloud is safe.
The sacred fire burning below a tarp, she says, is well-ventilated with plenty of water and sand close by to put it out. As for sanitation, she touts her skills as a trained chef to support her claim that the camp’s kitchen is clean.
Martin has been part of the environmental movement since the Clayoquot Sound protests in the late '80s. As a professional film actor, she says her work schedule provides enough flexibility to allow her to carve out time for activism.
Makeda says most of the neighbourhood’s residents support the protesters and their cause. But she admits that there have been a few skirmishes between campers and people driving by.
“As far as they're concerned, we're a bunch of hippy hooligans with nothing better to do,” she said.
"On occasion we will snap back."
Shortly after Martin says this, an older man in a tan Buick drives past the camp, rolling down the passenger window as he goes by.
"You should ask the people who live here how they feel about this camp," he says.
A shoeless protester in his 20s, dressed in black from head to toe, approaches the car. He asks the driver if he's Indigenous, and what rights he has to the land.
After a brief exchange, the driver rolls away.
'I’m totally for it'
One resident who supports the camp is Meagan Carver, a mother of two young children who runs a small business dealing with antiques.
“I’m totally for it, to be honest,” she said. “It’s temporary and it’s better than the tankers that will be coming so close to my kids’ school.”
Carver says she appreciates how both camps raise awareness of the pipeline issues.
She notes some neighbours view the camps as an eyesore, but says most people support them.
All the better for protesters like Martin, who says the camp isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“We will stand to the bitter end,” she said.