Fearless SFU prof stages unconventional protest against Trans Mountain pipeline expansion
By Diane Luckow
SFU health sciences professor and retired physician Dr. Tim Takaro, 63, has just returned to the ground after 10 days of camping in the treetops alongside the Brunette River near Hume Park in New Westminster, B.C.
He and his supporters are trying to stop the contentious Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, which will carry three times more bitumen from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. than the present pipeline. The expansion plans call for the trees along the Brunette River conservation area to be felled by Sept. 15.
He is protesting the pipeline because he says, “the review process was rigged since it was approved with no regard for the climate impacts of the oil flowing to foreign markets.”
He wants the Canadian government to stop building large fossil energy projects and instead invest in sustainable, renewable energy projects.
Much of Takaro’s research has focused on climate change and human health, with an emphasis on water quality in B.C. communities and the effects of cumulative exposures related to resource extraction.
“The climate risks of burning the fuel that will be transported by this pipeline were not considered,” says Takaro, who participated in the pipeline review process. He wrote two extensive reports, participated in all of the hearings, and even convinced B.C. health officers, more than a year ago, to demand an independent assessment of the cumulative health impacts.
Takaro says the health risks are many, including leukemia in children, air pollution and, in the event of a spill, contaminated water supplies and the mental health impacts from dealing with the disaster.
“All of that was ignored,” he says, “so there comes a time when, as a public health physician, my duty is to protect public health.”
SFU supporters include health sciences professor Scott Venners, who animated a video to help spread the word about Takaro’s protest on social media.
Takaro also had visits from health sciences professor Ryan Allen, who dropped by and was interviewed by City News 1130, and former health sciences dean John O’Neil, who dropped by with supplies. Also visiting were current dean Tania Bubela, who tweeted about Takaro’s sit-in and Mark Lechner who handled crucial logistics.
A group of other supporters camped nearby to assist him throughout the days and evenings. Science communicator Kurtis Baute has now replaced him in the treetop campsite.
“COVID-19 has shown us that we can respond to a health emergency with incredible strength by citizens and government,” says Takaro. “We are transforming our world at work in school and in our economic priorities. We’ve known that we must transform our energy system for decades and now is the time to bounce back better from COVID-19 by phasing out fossil energy sources. The Prime Minister’s new pipeline, which has a 40- to 50-year lifespan, will enable expansion of the Alberta oilsands.
“This is not in the national interest and will harm the planet. Future generations depend upon us to do the right thing now, and spend our money on the future not the past.”