Global Policy Forum

David vs. Goliath: Keystone XL Multinational Bullies Pipeline Protestors into Settlement

NGOs have been at the forefront of the fight against the Keystone XL tar sands project. In response, TransCanada has issued a series of lawsuits against these groups. Filing what are called “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” (SLAPP), multinational companies can take action against non-violent protests by targeting financially-weak NGOs and individual protestors. One attorney representing the activists condemns the lawsuits as an unethical violation of freedom of speech. Ironically, what activists have labeled “corporate bullying” has not deterred the coalition movement against the project.

By Lauren McCauley

January 29, 2013

Transcanada, the multinational giant behind the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, has followed a new corporate strategy by filing crushing lawsuits against individual activists and financially vulnerable organizations that have tried to halt to the construction of the controversial project.

Despite the repressive tactics designed to censor opposition and intimidate others from joining such activities, those targeted vow to continue the fight to protect "their homes and futures from toxic tar sands."

The suit's defendants, which included several environmental groups including anti-pipeline coalition Tar Sands Blockade and 19 individual protesters, "were threatened with losing their homes and life’s savings if the lawsuit went forward," Tar Sands Blockade said a press statement.

Kevin Gosztola of FireDogLake explains:

    The suit brought was what is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Such lawsuits enable fascism by providing a mechanism for a corporation to go after individuals or groups engaged in protest or freedom of speech. They are often used against people who lack resources or cannot afford to pay the legal expenses necessary to stand up to a corporation in court.

Despite the legal setback, members of Tar Sands Blockade vowed to keep fighting.

"TransCanada is dead wrong if they think a civil lawsuit against a handful of Texans is going to stop a grassroots civil disobedience movement," said spokesperson and defendant Ramsey Sprague. "This is nothing more than another example of TransCanada repressing dissent and bullying Texans who are defending their homes and futures from toxic tar sands."

Tammie Carson, another target of the lawsuit and grandmother from Arlington, TX, said she took the action to protect her grandkids’ future. "I couldn’t sit idly by and watch as a multinational corporate bully abused eminent domain to build a dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline right through Texans’ backyards," she said. "I had no choice but to settle or lose my home and everything I’ve worked for my entire life.”

Citing one court's opinion of the SLAPP lawsuit, the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) writes, "Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined."

In reaction to the settlement, Lauren Regan, veteran attorney with CLDC who helped coordinate legal representation for the activists, said:

 This is a David versus Goliath situation, where an unethical, transnational corporation is using its weight to crush First Amendment rights of people speaking out and resisting the irreparable destruction that will result from construction of this highly controversial XL Pipeline…But the resistance to the pipeline is growing, not shrinking; it’s coming from everywhere. This is a national and global issue that will effect us all.

Lawyers from the CLDC represented the Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide North America and Rising Tide North Texas as well as the other targeted individuals. As part of the settlement, the activists agreed to no longer trespass or cause damage to Keystone XL property throughout the pipeline's entire southern leg, including any demonstrations "aimed at interfering with pipeline construction," the Toronto Star reports.

However, as Gosztola adds, "what it does not do is stop individuals unknown to TransCanada and groups other than Tar Sands Blockade or Rising Tide chapters from engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience or disruptive activity."


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