On Friday, community members from across Vancouver converged on Burnaby Mountain, the site of conflict surrounding the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, after the B.C. Supreme Court approved an injunction to remove a group of protesters, who call themselves the Caretakers of Burnaby Mountain, by Monday at 4 p.m. This article takes an in-depth look at Jakub Markiewicz, an artist, filmmaker and the youngest member of the Caretakers, who recently made headlines after chaining himself to a Kinder Morgan vehicle.
Living in the city, amidst streetlights and headlights and shop signs left on all night, it’s easy to forget just how dark the night can be. Burnaby Mountain isn’t far from its namesake city, or downtown Vancouver for that matter, but by the time six o’clock rolls around (thank you, daylight savings), the darkness feels like a vacuum. The moon, one day past full, is barely enough for me to see where I’m putting my feet in the wet grass.
“After a few nights of not using a headlamp, your eyes really do adjust to the darkness,” Jakub Markiewicz tells me, perched on a boulder the evening of Nov. 7.
He’s returning from a small clearing halfway down the mountain, the spot where Kinder Morgan felled 13 trees, sparking the blockade camp that has been occupying the parking lot at the top of the mountain since early September. I was coming from the camp, a collection of wall tents and tarps that house a kitchen overflowing with donated food, a small covered sitting area and a circle of chairs around the sacred fire, lit a few days ago and kept burning round the clock.
It’s quiet tonight and pitch black by 6 p.m., but Markiewicz says it’s not always like this.
“I find that there are certain nights during the week where it’s constant humming of the city, a never-ending beehive, and other nights is dead silence.” Some nights the sound of planes overhead and trains from the North Shore interrupt to remind him where he is.
“This is a sort of false off the grid. I’m not living in the city but I am benefitting from it at the same time, being so close to it. Although the air is much cleaner here.”
Caretakers of Burnaby Mountain
Markiewicz has been on the mountain day and night, with few exceptions, for a month now. Born and raised in Burnaby near the east side of the mountain, he grew up hiking and camping in the backcountry, often solo, so he’s comfortable spending days on end in the woods regardless of who else is around.
At 18, he’s the youngest member of the group that has come to be known at the Caretakers of Burnaby Mountain, a core group of people who have been keeping watch over the mountain since Kinder Morgan arrived in the conservation area with chainsaws
to begin survey work.
An aspiring artist and filmmaker who spends much of his time with a beat-up SLR over his shoulder, Markiewicz had plans this fall to visit the Unist’ot’en Camp, or perhaps the Sacred Headwaters, but when the call came to defend the mountain, he decided he was needed at home. In the beginning, he visited the site almost every day, just getting to know others doing the same. Before long he was spending every night in a tent. The full moon at the end of last week marked one month of sleeping on the mountain for him.
While precocious is certainly one of the first words that comes to mind to describe Markiewicz, he still has the slightly sheepish grin of a teenager and the wide-eyed attention of someone who knows he still has much to learn. His expression is stern and focused as he sets Kinder Morgan pipeline advertising flyers alight with a stick out of the fire in an attempt to get the perfect photo for Twitter. (He said residents regularly drop off the company’s flyers to fuel the Caretaker’s fire).
Over the last couple months Markiewicz has also seen coyotes and a handful of bears in the woods. Early one morning, he stumbled upon a mother and cub in the clearing.
“The cub was super friendly, which is not the ideal situation,” he says with a small smile.
The camp is occupied by a mishmash of people, who run the full gamut of age, background, experience and worldview. From individuals committed to grassroots land defence to professional activists and longtime Burnaby residents roused by the threat of an oil spill in their backyards, the bedfellows may be strange, but they’ve found ways to hang together through the worst of it.
Earlier in the day that Friday, Markiewicz said several RCMP officers arrived at the camp, a regular occurrence by now. But when an officer attempted to enter the camp, Mel Clifton, a land defender from the Tsimshian and Gitxsan nations refused him entrance. Markiewicz says an altercation ensued that landed Clifton in cuffs and ended with a ride to the Deer Lake RCMP detachment. Members of the Caretakers say the officer responded aggressively to Clifton’s refusal of entry, pushing him into a parked car and then onto the ground where he was cuffed and taken down the mountain. A group of Caretakers, worried for Clifton’s safety, followed to the detachment to check in on him later that day. Clifton was released with the possibility of an obstruction charge.
Jakub Markiewicz holds up his photo which appeared in Kinder Morgan legal documents in a claim against the Caretakers. Photo by Jakub Markiewicz.
Burnaby vs. the National Energy Board
The City of Burnaby also opposes the Trans Mountain expansion, so when the federal National Energy Board ruled the municipality does not have the right to keep Kinder Morgan off the mountain, the protesters redoubled their commitment.
On Wednesday, October 29, company surveyors arrived for work to find about a dozen bodies blocking the trail. When they returned to their vehicle, they found Markiewicz chained beneath it. He was arrested but not charged.
Jakub Markiewicz locked to the Kinder Morgan company vehicle. Photo from Vancouver Observer.
The following day, Kinder Morgan filed for an injunction
against the protesters, asking the courts to prevent the group from obstructing further survey work.
The company also announced it would sue a handful of protesters close to $6 million for delays and lost profits. Included in the suit are Caretakers Mia Nissen and Adam Gold, activists who made news by chaining themselves to the gates at the Chevron refinery in Burnaby this summer, as well as SFU professors Stephen Cullis and Lynne Quarmby and two others simply named John and Jane Doe.
The suit against the protesters is being criticized as a SLAPP
suit, or a strategic lawsuit against public participation. Professor Quarmby recently told the CBC
she hopes legislation will eventually be introduced to prevent this kind of suit from being filed in the first place.
“There is very much something that our provincial government could do,” she said. “We used to have anti-SLAPP legislation in British Columbia but we don’t have that anymore. It’s gone and that’s why I’m in trouble, I think.”
All in the Family
This is my third time on the mountain, and having neither seen nor heard word of any parents, I have to ask. But Markiewicz just shrugs and says it’s no surprise to them.
“They’re fine with it. It’s just regular, good old me,” he smiles.
He visits when he can, and while both parents keep mostly out of sight, Markiewicz says he learned both photography and the inclination to stand up for what he believes in from his father.
In Poland in the early 1980s, the senior Markiewicz joined the Solidarnosc, the first independent labour union in a Soviet country and the catalyst behind a widespread non-violent, anti-communist social movement credited with a significant role in the downfall of communism. When he was arrested by the Zomo (the state police) and thrown in prison, he managed to smuggle in a small camera with him.
“He taught me how to take photos on a large format camera, medium format camera and 35-millimetre,” Markiewicz says. He has been learning digital on his own, but finds it a little disappointing.
“Actually developing the negatives in the dark room makes you appreciate each shot more. You can actually think, should I take this photo? Will it mean anything to me? Will it mean anything to anyone else, and is there a story? You’re physically handling it. With digital I find that everyone just points and shoots and hopes for the best without actually learning how light affects the process and how you affect light.”
Markiewicz was accepted into the photography program at Emily Carr University of Art and Design for this fall, but turned it down in favour of getting a little more life experience. In addition to finishing high school, he also completed the matura, the exit exam written by high school students in a number of European countries that will allow him to study in Europe if he decides he wants to. Having screened a few short films in festivals, including the Vancouver International Film Fest in 2011, he’s considering the London Film School, or maybe something in graphic design.
For now he seems happy to live on the mountain, confident this is where he needs to be, at least until the end of this fight — however long it lasts.
Support for the cause has grown significantly after the court granted Kinder Morgan’s injunction, with NGO
s like Council of Canadians and 350.org
jumping in to spread the word and increase support for the Caretakers.
But I get the impression Markiewicz isn’t terribly concerned about the decision one way or another. It’s not that he isn’t angry, especially with the conduct of the NEB, but he isn’t disillusioned the way many young activists seem to be.
I don’t think it ever occurred to him to put any stock in such institutions in the first place. Either way, he’s not going anywhere.
“I live close by. I focus my time and energy on this since it’s what I feel is the most important issue that I can contribute to at the moment.”
*Editor’s Note: Since this article was published, DeSmog Canada has learned that the author, Erin Flegg, was a participant in the protest on Burnaby Mountain. DeSmog Canada was not aware of this at the time of publication. We remain committed to transparency and disclosing any conflicts of interest.
Lead Image Credit: Self-Portrait by Jakub Jerzy Markiewicz.