(Coast Salish water protectors say an eviction notice to Camp Cloud issued by the City of Burnaby earlier this month ignores their rights as Indigenous people who have never ceded their lands. Photo: Justin Brake/APTN)
An assistant fire chief with the City of Burnaby Fire Department has retired amid controversy over his public support for the Camp Cloud water protectors and their fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
On Friday Burnaby Now reported that Bryan Kirk, a 36-year veteran firefighter, was summoned to a meeting with City of Burnaby Director of Public Safety and Community Services Dave Critchley, Burnaby Fire Chief Joe Robertson and union representatives after APTN News published an excerpt of a July 20 phone conversation between Kirk and Camp Cloud spokesperson Kwitsel Tatel.
According to the report, Kirk announced his retirement after hearing a rumour that he “was apparently in line for the heaviest suspension ever levied in the history of the Burnaby fire department.”
During the 10-minute phone call Kirk told Tatel and other water protectors at Camp Cloud “there’s no way” the fire department would extinguish their sacred fire, and that “even if I was told to do it, I still might not do it.”
The call was initiated by water protectors who were notified by a supporter that the fire department was rumoured to have been mandated to extinguish the sacred fire. It came less than 12 hours before the City of Burnaby’s eviction notice to Camp Cloud was set to expire.
Though no disciplinary action was discussed at Kirk’s July 25 meeting with the city, the 59-year-old told APTN Tuesday he was months away from retirement and decided that to avoid suspension he should hang up his boots and end his three and a half decade career on a positive note.
“I’m kind of glad this happened because I always told myself in the back of my mind [that] when I leave this job I’d like to make a difference,” he said. “I don’t know if this made a difference or not, but I think it did.”
On Tuesday Kirk said he didn’t regret his comments, and that he still supports the Camp Cloud water protectors and doesn’t believe their sacred fire poses a safety risk to Burnaby residents.
“I think I’d be more inclined to put out the Olympic torch than put out a First Nations ceremonial fire,” he said.
“But I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision in the end and I got out the door and am enjoying my first week of retirement.”
On Friday evening Burnaby Assistant Fire Chief cleared rumour the fire department would try to extinguish #CampCloud sacred fire Saturday AM, told camp court monitor Kwitsel Tatel he supports water protectors in their fight against #TransMountain pipeline. 1/2 @APTNNews pic.twitter.com/6yUAv8fozg
— Justin Brake (@JustinBrakeNews) July 21, 2018
Kirk said he spends a lot of time on the water in the Burrard Inlet, where the Trans Mountain Westridge marine terminal expansion is set to include new docks and additional incoming pipeline, and that Camp Cloud’s small sacred fire does not pose a risk to the oil tank farm across the street.
“I don’t think it’s happened anywhere worldwide where a whole tank farm has exploded because somebody had a little campfire nearby,” he said, adding he believes people are targeting Camp Cloud water protectors and playing up public safety threats in an effort to quell the Indigenous-led resistance to the pipeline.
(A copy of the July 18 eviction notice given to Camp Cloud water protectors by the City of Burnaby. Photo: Justin Brake/APTN)
“They’re trying to put the fear in everybody that it’s going to blow up Burnaby. It’s not a possibility. That’s my opinion,” he said.
Kirk said a bigger threat to the environment and to area residents is the risk of an oil spill in the Inlet.
“If it got into the water, it’s so hard to clean up,” he said.
“I’m all for jobs, and I drive a camper so I guess you could say I’m a little bit hypocritical, but my argument is that if [the pipeline’s diluted bitumen] was giving us a bit of a break at the gas station or whatever, I’d be more inclined to go for it. But we don’t see any of those benefits — all we see is the risk involved.”
Indigenous grassroots and political organizations have reaffirmed their opposition to Trans Mountain in recent weeks as water protectors continue to stand their ground against the City of Burnaby’s July 18 eviction notice that cited multiple bylaw infractions, including fire hazard.
Last week the City filed an application to the B.C. Supreme Court seeking a court order that would give the municipality the power to remove Camp Cloud.
City Manager Lambert Chu told APTN that “in the absence of seeing any positive action [from] Camp Cloud, and the uncertainty as to when they will actually undertake work and to bring the site back to its previous condition, the city decided to proceed with a court order application.”
Tatel and other Indigenous water protectors have said the City of Burnaby is overstepping its authority in attempting to use physical force to remove members of Coast Salish nations from land they have never ceded or surrendered to Canada or British Columbia.
“We are the Coast Salish, and unceded other tribal groups, of so-called British Columbia…exercising our rights,” Tatel said in a July 21 press conference from Burnaby Mountain.
Tatel also called for “mutual respect of our Coast Salish laws.”
On July 22 an elder delivered a letter to Camp Cloud from the Coldwater Indian Band council stating its support for the water protectors in their fight against the pipeline.
The following day Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a statement that the “ill-conceived and dangerous project, now owned by the Canadian government, will never happen.”
Phillip called Canada’s purchase of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain assets “a massively expensive experiment in trying to reenact a colonial status quo,” and said the federal government “can rest assured that the collective response by our Nations will continue to be strong, widespread, and unwavering.
“We’ve said no from the start. We still say no,” he said.