Conduct of port protesters constituted criminal contempt: Judge

Conduct of port protesters constituted criminal contempt: Judge

A judge has found that the conduct of six protesters arrested during widespread protests last year amounted to criminal contempt of court.

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A judge has concluded that the conduct of six protesters arrested while blockading the Port of Vancouver last year in violation of a court injunction amounted to criminal contempt of court.

In early February last year, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority applied for a court injunction to stop widespread protests and blockades affecting four port locations that prevented trucks from entering and exiting, but that also shut down major public roads. Three major intersections in Vancouver, including one at Clark Drive and Hastings Street, were also shut down due to the blockades.

The main goal of the protesters was to shut down the economy through a “choke-point” strategy aimed at ports and railways, and arose from opposition to the construction of a pipeline being built by Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. in northeastern B.C., according to a judge’s summary of the issues.

On Feb. 9, 2020, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen granted the injunction, finding that the protest activity was far removed in every respect from the dispute in northern B.C. with the blockades impacting the population at large and being clearly unlawful.

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After police cleared the blockades, the protests moved to other parts of the Lower Mainland and spread across Canada with railways becoming a target. Protest marches temporarily blocked city streets, including one near Vancouver City Hall.

Then on Feb. 24, 2020, several weeks after the injunction had initially been granted, more than 100 protesters marched to Clark Drive and Hastings Street again to blockade the intersection. The blockade continued to the following day when Vancouver police read the injunction order and asked the protesters to leave or risk being arrested.

Six protesters refused to leave and were taken into custody but were later released on undertakings to return to court. After COVID-19 hit, there were delays in the proceedings.

Vancouver police prepared a report to Crown counsel recommending criminal contempt-of-court charges be laid against the six respondents.

Lawyers for the port asked the judge to invite the B.C. Prosecution Service to assess whether prosecutions for criminal contempt should be pursued, a request that was granted by the judge.

On Feb. 1 of this year, lawyers for the prosecution service advised the judge that they were declining to assume conduct of the matter. The Crown lawyers said they had determined that the evidence supported a finding of criminal contempt but concluded it was not in the public interest to proceed. They said prosecution for civil contempt or other remedies were available for the port.

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Lawyers for the six protesters later told the court that their clients intended to plead guilty to contempt but wanted to argue that the decision by the B.C. Prosecution Service closed the door on a finding of criminal contempt.

But in a ruling posted on the court’s website Wednesday, Tammen said he had no hesitation in finding that the conduct of the protesters was criminal contempt: “The conduct here was open, prolonged and very public defiance of a court order, clearly calculated to lessen public respect for the courts.”

The finding that the conduct was criminal contempt must be considered as such for the purposes of pleas and sentencing, added the judge.

kfraser@postmedia.com

http://twitter.com/keithrfraser

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