Supporters rally as sentencing begins for Burnaby TMX protesters

Sentencing is ongoing for three Indigenous land defenders who were convicted of contempt of court for singing and conducting a ceremony outside the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

A multi-day sentencing hearing began for Stacy Gallagher, Jim Leyden and Tawahum Bige on Tuesday morning. The trio was arrested in August 2018 after protesting in front of the terminal for about half an hour, according to a news release on the protesters’ behalf, and they were convicted in October 2019.

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A protest was staged at the B.C. Supreme Court in Downtown Vancouver to show support for the three defendants.

“As Indigenous Peoples, we are caretakers of our lands and waters. Criminalizing these land defenders for upholding their responsibility under Indigenous law to conduct (a) ceremony to protect the land from a destructive project like Trans Mountain is symbolic of systemic discrimination in the colonial court system,” said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“The Trans Mountain expansion project does not have the consent of impacted First Nations; our people continue to say no, and our answer will not change.”

Supporters of the defendants said the cases are an indication of how police and prosecutors deal with Indigenous people and cultures, “even as heightened awareness of institutionalized police racism and anti-Indigenous violence has mounted in Canada.”

Supporters noted Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick declined to use the Indigenous names of the defendants and said judges have elevated their sentences for breaches of court orders.

“From the beginning, First Nations land defenders have been disproportionately targeted by Trans Mountain, the RCMP and the Crown,” said Kris Hermes of the B.C. Law Union, who provided legal support for the hundreds of people arrested in 2018. “Instead of reconciling centuries of abuse, the Crown and the court are ‘doubling down’ by ignoring Indigenous traditions, refusing to recognize ceremony, and by imposing the harshest penalties possible.”

Gallagher and Leyden were since arrested again in November and December 2019, charged with contempt of court and handed an order to stay 500 metres away from the Westridge terminal.

Gallagher has been tried on the more recent contempt charges and awaits sentencing on that matter.

Follow Dustin on Twitter at @dustinrgodfrey

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