In East Texas, TransCanada, a multinational energy corporation, has transformed property surrounding the easement it has control over for construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline into a police state, according to the Tar Sands Blockade. Enlisted off-duty police officers are intimidating, harassing and arresting just about anyone they think is trespassing, even if those people happen to be on property they own. And, officers who are acting as armed henchmen for TransCanada have arrested three journalists in the past twenty-four hours for simply being there to report on resistance to the pipeline construction.
The Tar Sands Blockade has been resisting construction of the pipeline for sixteen days. The Blockade has a tree village and are up along a timber wall. They have materials and supplies so they can stand in the way of TransCanada’s attempts to destroy forest and land to build a pipeline for the distribution of tar sands oil. In the past week, police have surrounded the area preventing any supplies, like food or water, from getting to Blockaders. Though the Blockaders currently have what they need, they are isolated and the police have no interest in their health or well-being.
A “marquee journalist,” according to Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson Ron Seifert, was placed under arrest around 1:30 PM this afternoon. The journalist approached the right of way or easement on private property, where he had permission to be and did not get “within thirty or forty feet of the boundary before he was handcuffed” and told he was trespassing. Though he was released after a few phone calls and not fully arrested, it was emblematic of “the level of oppression” going on in and around the area. [UPDATE - 3:00 PM EST on October 11 - NPR reports the journalist handcuffed was with the New York Times and was with a photographer, who was also handcuffed.]
The police, some hours later, “sealed off all press access to the tree blockade.” Freedom of the press is now being completely obstructed, with police refusing to allow any press access to observe and report on the blockade.
“They showed up about a week ago to cover the story,” said Seifert. “To be on the site to introduce the world” to the Blockaders and “what the tree village looks like across the timber wall.” And, to “augment their own reporting,” they climbed up to the top of the timber wall to do interviews.
When they finished, they were told if they set foot on the ground they would be arrested for trespassing. They held out there for a full week, according to Seifert. They planned to come down each day and each day they realized they could not get down safely until finally they could not stay up in the trees any longer and had to come down.
Thanks to grassroots support, both have had trespassing charges against them dropped. Still, they spent a night in jail for being there to tell a story, for being there to report on resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline project.
Seifert detailed how totalitarian the scene has become:
…Make no mistake this is a police state. There are more police officer than there are citizens on this property at any given time. Anyone that gets within eye sight of police officers, that person is demanded to identify themselves, threatened with arrest if they fail to produce idea. Police have been marching around private property, not the space that TransCanada claims is theirs, not their own easement, but well beyond that space. Just around private property in general looking for people to arrest and harass…
Landowners, Seifert said, are having their land patrolled and residents that simply want to go from one side of their farm to another and are being told if they set foot on their own property they are going to be arrested.
An easement contract is right to use property that is not owned. It is like a telephone or gas company being able to walk on property to do maintenance (except in those cases the telephone and gas companies are not typically destroying land so they can put something in the ground that will likely pollute the environment around the property).
If telephone companies hired a patrol to rove around and round up people they did not want near them when they were doing maintenance, it would be outrageous. That is what TransCanada is doing, Seifert explained.
“A foreign corporation is saying this is our land. We get to decide who can and cannot be on it at all times,” Seifert outlined. “If you disagree with what we are doing, we’re going to have you arrested because we bought out the local police department and we’re paying them directly by the hour to work for us.”
As described, TransCanada has found a supply of goons to chill dissent and spread fear around the area of construction so it can preserve the future of the pipeline. Payouts to police are funding the hours of time officers are spending engaged in this authoritarian conduct. While the police are not on-duty when they patrol, they are using taxpayer-bought police equipment and resources to illegally crack down on people:
…Off-duty police officers are being paid by TransCanada to do private security, however, they’re still wearing their police uniforms. They’re still using their police equipment. They still have their state-issued weapons and utilities about them. And they still have all their police resources and they’re still arresting people and acting as on-duty police officers. They’re pay check is coming from TransCanada. They’re equipment and their power is coming from the state and there is this collusion. These two things have comingled. It’s an alarming course of events. It’s not something you expect in America, that a multinational corporation would be paying police directly to do whatever it said. The police are being mandated by a foreign corporation to do what it says rather than to obey the law…
If someone is on an easement but not detracting from the company’s use of that piece of land they are supposed to be able to use, there is nothing illegal going on. A person can walk on the easement. In fact, right now, there is just a big dirt scar running through the middle of the forest until TransCanada takes the next step in its construction. There is no construction or workers. No people nearby can be said to be reasonably interfering with anything TransCanada is doing with the easement right now.
The Tar Sands Blockade has garnered wide support. Seifert said he has been impressed and humbled. There is a lot more work to do, but it is still possible for the Blockade and other Americans to stop the pipeline project. Larger push backs against TransCanada are in the works and there are a lot of opportunities for legal actions to be taken because TransCanada has engaged in illegal and fraudulent acts.