Protesting and Respecting the Law

ali Kinder Morgan protest March 2018 Jimmy Jeong credit

My daughter Ali at the moment of her arrest at the Kinder Morgan tank farm, protesting the Trans Mountain oil pipeline project. March 2018   photo credit: Jimmy Jeong

What follows below is my letter to the editor published in the Kamloops This Week, March 27, 2018

*A YouTube video of Ali’s arrest was also provided to me along with the photo 

Protesting and Respecting the Law

I have been reading reactions to the arrests this past week in Burnaby, BC at the gates of the Kinder Morgan tank farm. Those arrested now include two MPs. One of those less famous arrested also happens to be my daughter. These arrests are part of broader opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion: a project to allow for the transport of much more diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands for export via tankers and refining in other countries.

Some of the lively conversation about the protests has been about whether it is appropriate to engage in direct action and civil disobedience: a peaceful, non-violent and yet clearly illegal act of protest. In this case, it is refusal to obey an order granted to Kinder Morgan that requires everyone to remain outside a determined zone. Protesters have been arrested for sitting where they are not legally allowed to sit (as this has blocked access for the corporation’s activities in completing the project).

As I’ve listened to the debate and thought about how I feel about this, I’ve re-read a letter that I first read as a young adult. It had a large impact on me and continues to inform me. I was living and studying for a few years in Kentucky and was considering much of what I was seeing of the U.S. experience. The letter* was written by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He wrote it from his jail cell in Birmingham, as he was arrested and held in custody for protesting by marching, which was illegal. Others were arrested in those months for sitting where they were not legally allowed to sit.

He wrote the letter, not to his opponents, but to his moderate supporters who believed he had crossed a line. They criticized him for his arrest and for the illegal direct action of the movement. They wanted him to slow down and to stay on the legal side. King’s response to his supporters sheds light on how we might consider what is happening in BC: at the gates of Kinder Morgan.

“I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law… That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

*Dr. King’s full letter is available here


Ali’s activism continues to inform my own engagement. In June, 2018, I’m facilitating a program, ‘The Activist as Mystic‘ at lovely Hollyhock on Cortes, Island, BC.  You are invited to join us.

Here is the program description:

A ‘Circle of Trust’ experience based on the work of Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal. Join us for an exploration into our shared ‘blessed unrest’: an informed, mystical, active and loving resistance to the world as it is. In the heart of the mystic and the activist, our response arises from this restless longing for a better world.

In a safe, quiet, nurturing, and confidential environment, we take time for reflection, clarity and insight. We are invited to slow down, listen and reflect in a quiet and focused space. At the same time, we engage in dialogue with others in the circle—a dialogue about things that matter. As this “sorting and sifting” goes on, and we are able to clarify and affirm our truth in the presence of others, that truth is more likely to overflow into our work and lives. Guided by core principles and practices, which include the belief that everyone has an inner teacher, an inner source of truth, we engage in contemplative practices to support personal and societal transformation.

Dan Hines is Courage & Renewal® Facilitator mentored by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal. He is a political activist, change agent, Anglican priest, speaker, consultant for intentional communities and leadership coach for business, educational, and religious organizations.




  1. Alice Watson · · Reply

    Thank you for this response to your daughter’s arrest, the arrest of others, in attempting to communicate great displeasure and disappointment at the continuing process of building the pipeline facility. They are representing many, many people who feel the same. We are at a crossroads in our policies/laws that are in conflict with building awareness that our children’s future on this earth is being ‘jailed’ while politicians pretend to do something about climate change. We can do something. Your daughter and others are attempting to be non-violent messengers that we are worried, concerned, and have the right to speak up. I have never read King’s Letter from Jail and I appreciate the opportunity. Another letter/pamphlet (online) is The Law by Frederick Bastiat, one of the original Americans, explaining the purpose of the law (similar to Dr. King’s but more general).

    1. Thank you Alice for commenting and I will look up the letter by Frederick Bastiat. I’m grateful for your kind and thoughtful words.

  2. Courage Earth · · Reply

    In this spirit, here is 70-year old Laurie Embree’s statement to the court on July 31, on her way to serve 7 days in jail for blocking Kinder Morgan’s gates in Burnaby, BC:

    “Your Honour, I have lived my 70 years abiding by the law. But, if we look back into our history, there have been many times when our laws have supported injustices.

    In the 18th century there were laws that supported child labour to the benefit of the Industrialists of the times.

    In the 19th century, laws were created to support the ownership of black people to the benefit of Plantation Owners.

    In the 20th century, we made laws that allowed us to take native children away from their parents and to place the rest of the family on reserves, to the benefit of Europeans that wanted their land.

    And again, laws that suppressed women’s rights, to the benefit of their husbands.

    All of those laws were created through the judicial system- that you are a part of, sir – but they were actually designed by influential people behind the scenes that would profit from them.

    As much as we think we have come a long way, the mentality behind the Industrialists, the Plantation owners, the European lust for Indigenous land, and the men that wanted their wives to do their bidding, is still very present in our society.

    Our judicial system is still being manipulated by rich and powerful people that have the influence to make our legal system work for them.

    I truly believe that when we have laws that support injustices, it is the duty of all good men and women to stand up and challenge those laws.

    A prominent and recent case in point would be when Director Chatenay of the Canadian Wheat Board was jailed for protesting the Canada Customs Act and its restrictions on grain exports. In his own defence, Mr. Chatenay stated that, “The greatest respect for the law is to change an unjust one.”

    Subsequently, on August 10th of 2012, Mr. Chatenay, and others jailed for that protest, were pardoned by then – Prime Minister Harper who, in doing so said, and I quote, “These people are not criminals. They are our fellow citizens who protested injustice by submitting themselves peacefully to the consequences of challenging injustice.”

    I believe the man I just quoted is the person who appointed you to the position you hold today.

    This law sir, that you have created, and that I, and many others are peacefully challenging, is unjust.

    It supports an industry that is not just harming children, or black people, or women, or Indigenous peoples. Your law, in fact, is supporting an industry that has been scientifically proven to be harming the whole world and every living thing on it.

    Today I feel privileged and proud to be standing on my side of the bench before me.”

  3. […] I’ve got a daughter this morning who strapped herself to the Burnaby Terminal to protest the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline project. She’s a part of an activist group and she’s a good example of what is possible when people refuse to accept what’s going on. They do these incredible acts of civil disobedience. It’s a bit scary as a dad but she’s a model for me in bringing about change. That’s what I’m noticing comes out of these circles. […]

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