A handful of protesters have been arrested after using whistles and police tape to disrupt a Northern Gateway pipeline hearing in downtown Vancouver.

The protesters, three men and two women, managed to sneak their way into the National Energy Board’s closed-door session at the Wall Centre building Tuesday morning.

Standing before the hearing’s three-person joint review panel, the protesters removed their sweaters to reveal T-shirts with slogans such as “climate crime scene” and “stop the pipelines,” then surrounded themselves with yellow tape.

Vancouver police were called to the hearing and ejected the protesters shortly after.

Among those removed was Fiona De Balasi Brown, who, despite her arrest, insists the stunt was a victory.

“We need to get our voices heard in whatever ways that we can, and if we’re not able to do that through official means we need to do that through direct action,” De Balasi Brown said.

Protesters argue the Northern Gateway hearings, held to assess Enbridge’s $5-billion pipeline proposal, are fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons, including that general issues of climate change have been shut out of the discussion.

“The people that are officially speaking at the hearings are told that that’s not part of the mandate,” De Balasi Brown said. “They’re not really supposed to talk about climate change at all, and we feel that it’s a really important issue and something that shouldn’t be kept out of the conversation.”

They’re also blasting the hearings for shutting out the public. Whereas most of the Northern Gateway sessions have been completely open, officials chose to hold closed-door hearings in Vancouver and Victoria to avoid disruptions like the one witnessed Tuesday.

Some are calling the move undemocratic, while the BC Civil Liberties Association suggests it may actually be illegal.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s against the law fro a court of law like the NEB to refuse entry to the public to come and watch its hearings,” said executive director John Paterson.

The federal Conservative government insists it believes that public access is key to a successful review, but said it can’t railroad the process.

“If we start damaging property and being disrespectful and instead of protesting, using protest as a way to intimidate people wo disagree with you, then I think we have a problem,” said Heritage Minister James Moore.

Police say the protesters are facing charges of assault by trespass.

Investigators are also trying to determine how the protesters managed to gain access to the hearing, and are reportedly going to maintain a presence at all remaining session in the city.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Scott Roberts