Two Canadian politicians are facing criminal charges, and possible jail time, for protesting the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
On Monday, the BC Prosecution Service announced that two special prosecutors independently determined criminal contempt of court charges were warranted against Green Party leader Elizabeth May and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart.
Stewart, who represents Burnaby South, pleaded guilty to the charge on Monday, and is awaiting sentencing. May is expected to enter a plea on May 28.
The charges relate to an injunction, granted by the BC Supreme Court to Kinder Morgan, intended to keep protesters away from pipeline construction in Burnaby.
On March 23, May and Stewart were arrested for breaching that court order, which created a five metre no-protest buffer zone around the work site on Burnaby Mountain.
Mass protests at that location have resulted in criminal contempt charges against 187 protesters, including the two politicians, all of whom are accused of breaching the same injunction. So far, 13 people including Stewart have entered guilty pleas.
According to the BCCLA, trial judges have discretion to sentence those convicted of criminal contempt on a case-by-case basis. In a previous case in July 1993, six people were found guilty of criminal contempt for blocking the Kennedy River Bridge on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and were sentenced to 45 days if they pleaded not guilty, and 30 days if they pleaded guilty.
Kinder Morgan asked the court to hold those who breached the injunction in civil contempt of court. But on April 9, BC Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Affleck said he believed the breaches warranted criminal contempt charges, and referred the matter to the Attorney General, by way of the BC Prosecution Service, to investigate whether they were warranted.
“Canadians have the constitutional right to peaceful protest especially when governments abuse power,” Stewart, who is currently running for mayor of Vancouver, wrote on Facebook the day he was arrested. “During the last election, Justin Trudeau said that 'while governments grant permits... only communities can grant permission.' I am here today to help amplify the voices of my constituents who do not grant permission for this pipeline.”
“First Nations' and municipal governments as well as the Province deeply oppose this pipeline as British Columbians take most of the risk for little benefit,” his post continues. “I feel it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to advocate for my community as its elected Member of Parliament, including exercising my constitutional rights."
“I am keeping my word,” May said in a statement after she was released on March 23. “I said I would stand in solidarity with the First Nations opposing Kinder Morgan and I am keeping my word.”
Approved by the federal government in November 2016, the $7.4 billion pipeline Trans Mountain project would expand an existing pipeline, tripling the amount of oil that would be moved from Alberta to the BC coast, where it would be shipped to international markets. But the project has seen heated opposition from protesters and the BC government, who vow that they will not allow it to proceed, citing concerns over spills of diluted bitumen on the Pacific coast, and improper consultation with First Nations.