Three women have gone to jail for 14 days after pleading guilty to criminal contempt of court for breaching a court injunction aimed at preventing disruption of work at the Burnaby Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX).
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick told Catherine Hembling, 79, Janette McIntosh, 58, and Ruth Walmsley, 61, that protests are part of a healthy democracy. However, criminal conduct — such as violating court injunctions — is not, she said.
"All were law-abiding citizens and felt compelled to act in a manner that is unacceptable in society," Fitzpatrick said.
The judge said they had been part of an organized group aiming at getting its way.
"That is unacceptable. For that, you must be punished."
The sentences were what Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno had sought.
The so-called "Brunette River 6" are members of a nondenominational, multi-faith prayer circle, residents of Burnaby and Vancouver, who came together to oppose tree cutting by TMX, as well as stream and urban salmon river degradation they believe is being caused by the company.
As the women entered the courthouse Monday, dozens showed up outside to support them.
The injunction, issued by Justice Kenneth Affleck in 2018, prohibits people from entering within five metres of worksites.
Leno said McIntosh was arrested on Sept. 8 after she and eight other protesters blocked machinery from entering a worksite. The lawyer noted injunction signs were visible nearby.
The court heard McIntosh and a man were approached by a police constable and told of the injunction. The man chose to leave while McIntosh elected to stay and was arrested. McIntosh did not dispute the facts.
In Walmsley's case, she was in a site where tree felling was being done on Sept. 27, the Crown told the judge. Leno said workers spotted people walking through the area without hardhats and stopped work.
The group of six knelt down and began singing. When approached by police, two protesters chose to stay. Walmsley was read the injunction and was subsequently arrested.
The court heard Hembling was arrested on Sept. 23 when four protesters were preventing a piece of machinery from cutting trees. Again, an officer read the injunction and all but Hembling elected to leave. She was arrested.
Each woman said she would abide by the sentence passed and would serve it peacefully.
The women gave passionate addresses to the court about protecting the land and the threat of climate change and perils the planet faces from continued fossil fuel use. Each said they had tried through letters to politicians, the National Energy Board (NEB) and engaging in rallies and public processes.
When none of those avenues worked, they moved to civil disobedience, the court heard.
Macintosh said she has dedicated 35 years of her life to ecological justice. She cited the International Panel on Climate Change report that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a “code red” for humanity” and “must sound a death knell” for coal, oil and gas.
Macintosh explained her motivation.
“I felt a deep moral and ethical responsibility,” she said. “My motivation was driven by faith, hope, compassion and love.”
Walmsley, meanwhile, said "the destruction of Mother Earth must stop."
“Climate change is threatening the survival of life on Earth. Greed and profit have taken precedence over people and planet. I will not sit back and do nothing while over one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction,” she told the judge.
Hembling called TMX a “monstrous pipeline,” saying this was the first time in her life she has broken the law.
“I am not crazy. I am not malicious,” she said. “I am an old lady.”
She said her decision to engage in civil disobedience stemmed from her Unitarian faith and belief in the interconnectedness of all things. She said all life is affected by human behaviour.
Another member of Brunette River 6 — Tim Takaro, 64 — will appear on Tuesday, but is not expected to enter a plea at that time.
Others who have been arrested at the project site include former federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and then-New Democrat MP, now Vancouver Mayor, Kennedy Stewart. They both pleaded guilty to breaking the injunction.
Leno told Fitzpatrick a range of sentencing options has been developed for those breaching the injunction — from seven to 28 days in jail. The aim, she said, is to deter further breaches.
She said that “position” on sentencing could increase in future.