Cries of “Shame on Canada” and accusations of racism echoed through Vancouver’s Law Courts May 10 as an Indigenous protester convicted of breaching an injunction against blocking work at a Burnaby pipeline facility was sentenced to 28 days in jail.
Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick said Will George, 42, breached the injunction Jan. 6 when he and others put a vehicle at the gates to the Trans Mountain facility on Burnaby Mountain and then removed its wheels. The action prevented vehicle traffic through the gate.
“The vehicle had been extensively spray-painted with anti-pipeline slogans,” Fitzpatrick said.
The facility and associated worksites have been the scenes of multiple protests against the twinning of the pipeline from Alberta to the Westridge Marine Terminal.
Justice Kenneth Affleck granted the injunction in March 2018, giving RCMP power to arrest people blockading the terminal and the entrance to its tank farm.
“Mr. George has strongly held views on Trans Mountain’s activities in relation to concerns about the environment,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Mr. George chose to violate the injunction,” she said. “The protest was well thought out. The actions of the group were planned and deliberate.”
She said George was told the RCMP was on their way and that George remained at the blockade.
The judge said George had been a long-time occupant of the long-term watch camp set up across the street from the gate. Court heard he was aware of the injunction and the high-profile arrests that had already happened.
Fitzpatrick noted George is of Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam heritage.
She said a Gladue report, an examination of an Indigenous offender’s background, was done in the case. There, the court heard of abuse George has survived as well as the history of the impacts of residential schools on his family.
George, a high-rise window washer and fisherman, told Fitzpatrick May 9 going through the process of the report and reliving the past was traumatizing.
Fitzpatrick acknowledged George’s Indigenous heritage but declined to accord it any status in her passing sentence. She said to do so “would draw a distinction between Mr. George and other protesters.”
As Fitzpatrick passed the sentence, George’s supporters in the gallery erupted with cries of “shame, shame.”
“Racism is living on,” yelled one man before sheriffs removed him.
“We have our own laws,” called another.
Even after Fitzpatrick said others would be removed, the calls continued.
“Shame on the Crown. Shame on Canada,” a person shouted as Fitzpatrick left the room.
The shouting led to a significant sheriffs' presence in the halls of the courthouse.
George supporter Rita Wong called the sentence, "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."