An SFU professor who camped out in a tree at a Trans Mountain Pipeline worksite in Burnaby for three days should be sent to jail for 30 days for criminal contempt of court, according to a Crown prosecutor.
New Westminster resident Dr. Tim Takaro pleaded guilty to the charge in Vancouver Supreme Court Monday in relation to events that happened between Nov. 23 to Nov. 26 last year.
But Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick decided to reserve her sentencing decision until Wednesday.
On the morning of Nov. 23, Trans Mountain security personnel spotted a tent suspended about 100 feet up in a tree over a designated Trans Mountain worksite on the southern corner of Lougheed Highway and Gaglardi Way, according to agreed facts read out in court Monday.
Takaro, who opposes the expansion as a threat to health and the environment, was warned he was breaking a court order, but Takaro stayed in the tree until Nov. 26, when tactical officers reached him with a bucket lift and lowered him to the ground.
While he was in the tree, he posted two videos on Facebook, including one in which he called the $21.4-billion pipeline expansion an “abomination.”
“Disruption is required when the government is not acting in the best interest of the people,” he said on one video played in court.
Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno noted Takaro had broken a June 2018 B.C. Supreme Court injunction in two ways: by violating a five-metre injunction zone around Trans Mountain worksites and by impeding TMX work.
She called for a 30-day jail sentence, citing the need to deter others from ignoring court orders.
As aggravating factors, she noted the public way in which Takaro had broken the injunction, including the Facebook videos, large signs hanging from his tree sit and news stories.
Leno noted Takaro had appeared on a CBC radio show on the morning of the sentencing, with Takaro telling the host that sending him to jail would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
She also noted Takaro’s methods had been sophisticated and designed to cause longer TMX delays.
But defence lawyer Neal Chantler argued Takaro should be allowed to serve his sentence in the community because he has a heart problem that could cause a heart attack if he were sent to jail.
Chantler noted Takaro had no criminal record and had never been charged with contempt before, although he had been involved in an earlier tree sit in Burnaby in September that saw a police response.
Chantler also pointed to Takaro’s early guilty plea.
He proposed a four-month conditional sentence order, starting with one month of 24-hour-a-day house arrest followed by 120 hours of community work service.
Leno, however, opposed the CSO, saying a real jail term was needed to satisfy the principles of deterrence and denunciation.
Near the end of Monday’s hearing, Takaro made a 15-minute statement, speaking at length about his efforts since 2014 to oppose the pipeline expansion as a physician, epidemiologist and toxicologist.
“Once I realized that scientific evidence was not going to stop the project, I began to look to direct action as the next logical step,” he said.
As a doctor, he said he is required to protect the health of his patients and the public and to warn against impending health threats.
“At the time of my arrest, I was in a difficult position in light of my professional knowledge of the grave danger we face from climate change. I have the utmost respect for the court, but here in Canada we are in deep trouble, trouble that the UN secretary general calls moral trouble, because our fossil energy policies are exactly the opposite of what is required to reduce the numbers of people who will die from climate change. These environmental professional responsibilities and obligations led me to stay in the tree until Nov. 26.”
Takaro is scheduled to receive his sentence Wednesday morning.
Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor