VANCOUVER — Sachiko Charlotte Gyoba was born in 1943 in the Japanese internment camp of New Denver, in southeastern British Columbia, where she said her parents made the best of a “tarpaper shack” with their four young children.
That reality left the family with a lingering and inordinate fear of the law, Gyoba recalled.
But it wasn’t until her arrest on June 30, 2018 — while protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline extension — that Gyoba was “overwhelmed” and understood her family’s experience emotionally, not just intellectually.
“It was like déjà vu when I was handcuffed. I had a sense of what my parents were going through with this injustice,” the retired teacher explained in an interview. “What I had done was so peaceful and so ultimately mundane.”
In that moment, she remembered her mother’s words that “protesters stood for justice,” and without them, her parents would not have become Canadians in 1957.
Major opposition to the pipeline has resulted in a mounting standoff between provinces along with cases before the federal courts. Since March, hundreds of protesters have been blocking access to the Kinder Morgan gates.
There have been more than 220 people arrested, a third of whom are over the age of 60, according to the crown prosecutor.
Gyoba was one of the protesters who broke a court injunction filed by Kinder Morgan that set limits on how close people could be from the gates. The protesters stood right in front of the gates at one of the Kinder Morgan facilities at the Burnaby Mountain tank farm.
Of the group of nine that faced initial jail time for convictions on July 31, the first to be sentenced was 70-year-old grandmother Laurie Embree. Indigenous elders have also been arrested at the gates.
Meanwhile, the penalties for defying the injunction continue to increase, with the people arrested this week facing a sentence of 14 days in custody from the B.C. Supreme Court.
Gyoba was convicted of criminal contempt of court and sentenced to seven days. She was released Aug. 19 — along with four others, all over the age of 65 — after four days behind bars in a women’s correctional facility.
And she said she’s not sorry she did it.
“I won’t be here much longer, but I worry about what kind of planet the next generation will inherit from us,” the 74-year-old said. “People have to stand up when they see an injustice. If they don’t, then democracy doesn’t work for anybody.”
The pipeline project will contribute to climate change and it blatantly ignores the rights of Indigenous peoples, she argued.
Gyoba had never been arrested before. But after going to peaceful protests, signing petitions, writing letters, showing up to her MP’s office twice and marching up Burnaby mountain, this summer Gyoba decided — with her friend and former B.C. Federation of Teachers president Susan Lambert — that more needed to be done to stop the pipeline.
That’s why they blocked the gates of Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby tank farm, prepared to end up behind bars. They served their time together, got out together, and even shared a room in lock-up.
“They locked me in a cell, which was a toilet with a partial wall and a hard bench, for about five hours. Because I was the first,” Gyoba explained. “When I was led into a common room where Susan was, I was so indescribably happy to see her. She was already shackled.”
They sang I Shall be Released while waiting to exit from behind bars.
Lambert had never been arrested either, though she was an outspoken critic of the former B.C. Liberals government led by Premier Christy Clark.
The rising opposition to the pipeline has been largely generational, Lambert, a 68-year-old grandmother, said. In fact, she said she told her own children to refrain from protesting.