Elizabeth May pleads guilty to contempt over pipeline protest
Elizabeth May pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court in connection with a protest she joined earlier this year.
The federal Green Party leader announced the plea in court Monday, more than three months after she was arrested at a Trans Mountain facility in Burnaby, B.C.
May is one of several that entered guilty pleas this week to contempt charges.
The Crown suggested the protesters are fined $500 and given community service. May's lawyer told the judge his client was remorseful for the harm her actions caused the court, and also suggested a fine of $500.
"She takes the position that non-violent civil disobedience has a place in a functioning democracy," he said.
Despite May's apology through her lawyer, the judge handed the Saanich-Gulf Islands representative a stiffer penalty than was recommended in the joint submission.
Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck said May is not just an MP but the leader of a party intended to guide policy on environmental matters, and she's a lawyer. The judge said her actions could encourage other to continue to defy the injunction she violated, so she was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine.
And future protesters may be facing the same fate.
The Crown suggested Monday that the court impose a system of escalating penalties for anyone who is arrested again in the future for a similar violation of a court-ordered injunction. For example, a demonstrator might face a week in jail on second conviction, and thousands of dollars in fines.
Speaking outside the courthouse Monday, May said she respected the court process and would pay her fine immediately.
"I'm holding my head up high," she told reporters, adding that she intended to continue to represent her constituents and stand in solidarity with First Nations.
She said she will continue to speak out against the project, something the judge said has encouraged others to continue to defy the injunction she violated.
May said she believes Kinder Morgan will cancel its own project at the end of the month.
"They are kidnappers, who took a hostage not to get the ransom, but to kill the hostage," she said, referring to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
"They've made the Government of Canada jump through hoops, they've forced something that I thought I would never see – the finance minister saying we're prepared to underwrite a project that takes fossil fuels for export to other countries, violating Liberal election platform…"
She questioned why else the company would threaten to kill its own project by May 31.
"In point of fact, they don't have a legal right to build at this point. They've not met the conditions set by the National Energy Board. They haven't even applied for a huge chunk of permits they need from the provincial government," she said.
"The country has been caught up in a drama of Kinder Morgan's own making, and we will see very soon whether there is a project to protest or not."
While the plea is for criminal contempt of court, it will not leave her with a criminal record.
May, federal MP Kennedy Stewart and dozens of others were arrested this spring for demonstrations blocking Kinder Morgan's facilities in the Metro Vancouver city. Stewart, who has since announced he will step down at the end of term to run for mayor of Vancouver, pleaded guilty earlier this month to criminal contempt and was fined $500.
During their arrest, May told reporters the permits issued for the expansion of the existing pipeline did not respect the rights of Indigenous people.
Both terminals are protected by an injunction requiring protesters to keep at least five metres away. They have the right to peaceful protest, but cannot obstruct or prevent access to the worksites.
At the time of May and Stewart's arrest, a lawyer for Trans Mountain told the court that their actions could cause the Texas-based company to abandon the $7.4-billion project.
May's plea came a day after a 100-litre crude oil spill from the pipeline near the community of Barriere. Kinder Morgan shut down the pipeline briefly as a precaution, but said it was contained to the station.
The spill prompted a theatrical display from activists outside the courthouse, who suggested the cleanup efforts are inadequate. Barrels of molasses labelled "Crudeau's National Interest" were spilled, then protesters made an intentionally unsuccessful effort to clean it.
"We've kept the pressure on. We've done everything we can to send a message to Ottawa that we do not want this pipeline, and I hope it's enough," protester Matthew Kagis said.
With reports from CTV Vancouver's Penny Daflos and The Canadian Press