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Burnaby Trans Mountain tree-sitter jailed for criminal contempt

Jail time for Trans Mountain pipeline protesters violating a court injunction will start to increase if disobedience continues, a B.C. Supreme Court judge said Feb. 15
TMX arrest 20 takaro web
RCMP used a bucket lift to reach Trans Mountain protester Dr. Tim Takaro in Burnaby. He has pleaded not guilty to criminal contempt of court.

Two men involved in anti-Trans Mountain pipeline protests in Burnaby were jailed Feb. 15 after pleading guilty, while a third goes to trial in June after a not-guilty plea.

All were charged with criminal contempt of court for allegedly breaching a court injunction aimed at preventing disruption of work at the federally owned Burnaby Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project (TMX).

That injunction was granted in March 2018 and expanded two months later.

All three are considered part of the so-called "Brunette River 6": a nondenominational, multi-faith prayer circle. The group is made up of Burnaby and Vancouver residents, 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 she sentenced Dr. William Winder, 69, and Zain Haq, 21, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick put other would-be injunction breakers on notice that sentences will increase.

“This court is becoming increasingly frustrated with this ongoing disobedience,” she said.

Like many others charged, neither Winder or Haq had a previous criminal record.

Tree-sitter pleads guilty

Crown Prosecutor Ellen Leno told Fitzpatrick that Winder, a retired UBC French professor, was arrested on Sept. 22 after he was removed from a tree at a Trans Mountain worksite in Burnaby.

Leno said tree removal for pipeline work was stopped on Sept. 13 when workers realized there were people in the trees. 

Winder was 50 to 60 feet up a tree, the court heard. An injunction recording was played to him and he was given the opportunity to leave.

When Winder did not leave, police arrived with a cherry picker and ascended to remove him. They found him with a bicycle u-lock around his neck and other devices, fastening to the tree.

“This is a sophisticated and planned event,” Leno said of Winder’s tree sitting. “It was designed to allow a long interference. It’s not easy to do.”

She said prolonging an offence aggravates a breach.

The Crown asked for 21 days in jail for Winder but he countered with 14 days and 100 hours of community service. Fitzpatrick agreed with the Crown.

The judge said there has been proper notice by the Crown of increasing sentences for protest situations with aggravating circumstances.

“You’re the first,” she told Winder.

Winder said he was motivated to act as “western values have had the unintended consequence of bringing us to the edge of climate collapse.”

He told Fitzpatrick the injunction and applicable law predates the examples of the climate crisis the world finds itself in, that the 2021 fires and flooding are examples of the effects of climate change in B.C.

“It is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” Winder said.

“The crime of ecocide has made its way into the public’s general understanding,” he added.

While the courts have heard much about the upholding of the rule of law in the Trans Mountain protester breach cases, Winder said climate change could mean the annihilation of the human species and the breakdown of the rule of law.

In response to Winder’s saying he respected the rule of law, Fitzpatrick said, “that is highly questionable in these circumstances . . . sophistry for saying he’s defending his rule of law.”

Sleeping dragon protest lock

Leno said Haq was arrested on Sept. 24 after he was found sitting at the same worksite. Another protester was nearby.

Leno said the Extinction Rebellion protest group’s national action and strategy coordinator was found with a device known as a sleeping dragon. Protesters use the hard-to-remove devices to lock themselves into place.

“He was not locked into it,” Leno said.

The injunction was read and both were given a chance to leave. Haq chose to remain and was arrested.

Haq said he would his dedicate his time in jail to those who died from extreme weather events in B.C. last year. The Crown asked for two weeks behind bars; the judge agreed but said she would have given a stiffer sentence if requested.

SFU professor pleads not guilty

It was Dr. Tim Takaro, a Simon Fraser University professor of health sciences, who pleaded not guilty. He goes to trial June 13-16.

It’s alleged he breached the injunction after he spent months in a different set of Burnaby trees along the Brunette River to protest the cutting of more than 1,300 trees to clear a path for the pipeline.

Takaro was arrested Nov. 26 after police brought in a cherry picker to remove him.

The other members of the Brunette River 6 are Catherine Hembling, 79, Janette McIntosh, 58, and Ruth Walmsley, 61. They pleaded guilty to the charges Feb. 14. Fitzpatrick sentenced them to 14 days in jail each.

The Trans Mountain expansion project

The pipeline project is a doubling of the existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alta. and Burnaby. The project aims at doubling capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day.

The company’s website said the existing pipeline will carry refined products, synthetic crude oils, and light crude oils with the capability for heavy crude oil while the new pipeline will carry heavier oils with the capability for transporting light crude oils.

The Westridge terminal on Indian Arm below Burnaby Mountain will have three new berths, increasing the number of tankers served there by 34 per month from five in 2017. Aframax and Panamax tankers would be used.

The project was begun under previous owner Kinder Morgan, which sold Trans Mountain to the federal government for $4.4 billion as hurdles to its completion mounted.

The projected price tag for project completion was $7.4 billion, revised to $12.6 billion in 2020 but that figure has continued to climb.

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