A sign warning people of an injunction against obstructing work at Trans Mountain worksites. Protect the Planet Stop TMX

Anti-pipeline protestor handed 28-day sentence for blockading TMX Burnaby terminal

William George was convicted of blockading the entrance to TMX’s Burnaby Terminal on January 6, 2021, in breach of a 2018 court injunction.

By Srushti Gangdev | May 17, 2022 |5:00 am

An anti-pipeline demonstrator has been sentenced to 28 days in jail for breaching a 2018 injunction that prevents any obstruction of work at Trans Mountain worksites.

The sentence was handed down on May 10. BC Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick said in her written reasons for judgment, published on May 12, that it gave her no pleasure to hand down the sentence to William George.

George was convicted of blockading the entrance to TMX’s Burnaby Terminal on January 6, 2021. He and a group of fellow protestors had put a vehicle in the middle of the terminal entrance and removed its wheels, along with spray-painting anti-pipeline messages on it.

The blockade prevented normal operations at the worksite for about three-and-a-half hours, and was removed when RCMP attended the scene.

“At trial, Mr. George’s knowledge of the injunction was well-proven. … In addition, only two days earlier, an RCMP officer read a copy of the injunction to Mr. George at the same location when he was participating in another protest; on that occasion, Mr. George decided to cease his activities in blocking access to the Burnaby Terminal entrance after the reading was over,” Fitzpatrick noted.

George (Swaysan), who is a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and also has ancestry in and ties to the Squamish Nation, experienced physical and mental abuse, poverty, violence, and substance use disorders through his life. Many of his older relatives attended residential schools.

“Since 2018, Mr. George made further efforts to reconnect with his Aboriginal heritage when he helped build the Watch House on Burnaby Mountain. Mr. George was present at the Watch House for some six months,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

“It is common knowledge that the Watch House was constructed near the Burnaby Terminal entrance, and it is maintained by various Indigenous groups to ‘watch’ over Trans Mountain’s activities.”

George told the court that the “spark” that set him off towards the Jan 6 incident was a podcast that featured a politician who said that perhaps the COVID pandemic would force anti-pipeline demonstrators to stop protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, allowing the project to get done more quickly.

George said those comments angered him, and he felt he had to do something to protect his community.

While Fitzpatrick said she took the George’s Gladue report and the circumstances of his Indigenous heritage into account while considering his sentence, she also agreed with Crown counsel that in cases “where denunciation and deterrence are the primary sentencing objectives, an appropriate sentence for an Aboriginal offender may not necessarily differ from what may be imposed on a non-Aboriginal offender.”

She said while George’s Aboriginal heritage and circumstances were relevant, he had made great strides in becoming a valued member of his community and addressing his past traumas without breaching the law or court orders. She wrote that George’s actions at the Jan 6 protest did not arise from the systemic factors that informed his past circumstances.

“I also consider that specific deterrence is a relevant objective here. Mr. George must receive, process and understand the message that he cannot just ignore orders of this court and expect that little or no consequences will ensue. I accept that rehabilitation for Mr. George remains relevant, but it does not overwhelm the other sentencing objectives,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

“I have previously stated in these proceedings that allowing a lesser sentence here because of Mr. George’s belief in his cause and that he is Aboriginal would be to draw a distinction from the hundreds of other protestors who were arrested and faced charges and from those who were convicted.”

Activists with Protect the Planet Stop TMX (PPS TMX) decried the sentence, alleging that Fitzpatrick hadn’t paid proper attention to George’s Gladue report.

They questioned why George—the first Tsleil-Waututh member to be convicted of breaching the TMX injunction “while on his own ancestral, unceded land”—was the only person charged after the Jan 6 protest, even though there were several other protestors present.

PPS TMX also pointed to the BC Prosecution Service’s policy of seeking non-custodial sentences, especially for Indigenous defendants, except as a last resort.

“This is yet another example of the Crown continuing its long history of systemic racism and colonial violence, as it tries to separate Indigenous people from their land and criminalize them for defending it from harmful resource extraction,” said anti-pipeline activist Rita Wong in a press release.

“The Crown is meant to represent the public interest, yet it wilfully obstructs those trying to address the climate crisis, and instead pushes oil and gas projects that go against everything humanity is being called to do. Criminalizing Indigenous land defenders is racist and unjust.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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