Vancouver’s Middle-class Protest

On Easter Monday of 2006, 20 Canadians grabbed their camping gear and left the comfort of their homes to erect a tent city at Eagleridge Bluffs, a scenic area in West Vancouver, British Columbia. They were protesting the state government’s plan to build a highway through the Bluffs.

They"re mad as hell and aren"t going to take it anymore.© AP PHOTO

The four-lane highway expansion is meant to improve the road between Vancouver and Whistler in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. But the protesters argued that it would destroy rare and sensitive ecosystems and would decimate portions of a popular hiking trail. The area is also home to the endangered arbutus tree and the rare red-legged frog.

This small band was not composed of eco-warriors. Instead, they were middle-class professionals, bankers, teachers, lawyers, project managers and retirees who live in West Vancouver, one of the wealthiest communities in Canada.

"It was the first time many of them had ever really protested some government decisions," says 78-year-old environmental activist Betty Krawczyk, one of the only veteran activists in the group. Krawczyk has been arrested 10 times, and has served a total of two and a half years in prison over the past 13 years for blockading logging roads.

The battle for the Bluffs started two years ago when a group of West Vancouver residents wrote letters, organized community rallies and engaged different levels of government. "We lobbied everybody under the sun," says Dennis Perry, a retired investment manager who served as the spokesman for the protesters.

When these tactics proved unsuccessful, the protesters turned to civil disobedience. The activists held a 40-day siege at the Bluffs and refused to obey a court injunction ordering them to vacate the site. Late last May, 25 people were arrested. The same day, construction workers moved in and started clearing the land and cutting trees in preparation for the highway expansion. Not only did the protesters fail to stop the destruction, they are now facing contempt-of-court charges.

According to Chris Tollefson, executive director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria, it is tough to win environmental battles through civil disobedience in British Columbia. "It is a last resort and has to be undertaken in a spirit of resignation, accepting that there is only a small chance that your actions will in the short term change the result."

On the day of his arrest, Perry was already prepared to frame his actions in a larger context. "If we were going to lose, I wanted it to be in a way that people would remember," he says. "I hope we made an example for other conservation issues in British Columbia."

CONTACT: Coalition to Save Eagleridge Bluffs

—Isabelle Groc