SFU professors Lynne Quarmby and Stephen Collis have received the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy for their involvement in the protesting the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
The prize, established in 1993, is awarded to individuals that provoke or contribute to the understanding of controversy. Among previous recipients are biologists that studied the origins of HIV, restorative justice advocates, and others from a wide range of disciplines.
In 1994, the first recipient of the Sterling Prize was Parzival Copes, an economist who, in 1961, predicted accurately and unpopularly that Newfoundland’s economy wouldn’t be able to support its population if fisheries declined.
In October 2014, Quarmby and Collis, along with several other protesters, were sued for $5.6 million in damages due to their obstruction of surveying work being conducted on Burnaby Mountain. In his trial, some of Collis’ poetry was read in court. Collis joked to the audience that, “It was a good day for poetry, even if it was a bad day for this one poet.”
The conflict over the pipeline received major media attention when an injunction was granted to Kinder Morgan, which resulted in the eventual arrest of over 100 protesters, including Quarmby. By then, Quarmby already had a history of climate change activism. In 2012, the biochemist was arrested while blocking coal trains on the railway in front of the White Rock Pier.
The surveying work for the expansion concluded in December of that year, and resulted in 15 trees being cut down along with other damage to the forest.
After receiving the awards, Quarmby and Collis each spoke, detailing the ways that climate change and corporate influence on democracy are related.
Collis explained, “If what Lynne and I have done constitutes anything controversial, it is so only because of the problematic state of our current democracy.”
Quarmby elaborated, saying, “we have slowly signed away our sovereignty,” speaking to the degree that trade agreements have taken away the government’s ability to act on climate change. She continued that democratic reform is paramount to address these challenges: “We need to change the culture of parliament.”
Speaking about her decision to run in the current federal election as MP for the Green Party of Canada, Quarmby said that when Elizabeth May called to recruit her, “I knew immediately: ‘Oh no, I don’t have any choice.’”
She continued to say that her options to oppose the pipeline as a citizen had been exhausted. Even so, Quarmby recognized that she had been criticized by some of her former allies, saying that “somehow, I went over to the dark side by becoming a part of the system.”
However, the solutions to the tangled problems of corporate influence and climate change are not simple or clear. Collis explained that we should encourage all forms of engagement, because “there is no single solution” to the problems Canada is facing.