"Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness."
– UN secretary general António Guterres
B.C. Supreme Court justice Shelley Fitzpatrick has sentenced another retired university professor to jail.
On June 15, Simon Fraser University professor emeritus and public-health expert Dr. Tim Takaro, 65, was ordered to spend 30 days in prison as a result of violating an injunction obtained by Trans Mountain. The company did this to keep protesters away from its massive fossil-fuel infrastructure project.
The government-owned company's planned $21.4-billion pipeline would triple shipments of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to the Westshore Terminal in Burnaby.
Once completed, 890,000 barrels per day will flow through the pipeline system, with most of that being shipped by oil tanker through the Salish Sea to export markets.
“The real climate criminals are the federal and provincial governments for not taking decisive action to reduce fossil energy infrastructure and ignoring the urgency of the climate crisis,” Takaro said in a news release. “The government needs to take the climate crisis seriously to keep people from dying, instead of shamelessly going after the people who are fighting to keep our planet healthy and safe for generations to come.”
Takaro was one of six people who were arrested in the Brunette River area of Burnaby. Five others pleaded guilty, including William Winder, a retired professor in UBC's Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies.
On February 15, Fitzpatrick sentenced Winder to 21 days in jail.
Takaro and Winder were part of the so-called "Brunette River 6" group of activists who suspended themselves in trees to make it difficult for contractors to clear the land for the pipeline expansion.
According to a 2014 study commissioned by the City of Vancouver, annual upstream and downstream emissions from the pipeline project, after it's completed, will exceed annual greenhouse-gas emissions for the entire province of British Columbia.
“Canada is presenting itself as a leader on climate change and health, but where the rubber meets the road, it is increasing emissions from the Alberta tarsands and jailing one of its foremost climate and health leaders—medical professional and health researcher Dr. Tim Takaro—who is calling for a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Global Climate & Health Alliance director Jeni Miller said in a news release. “The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion is incompatible with a healthy, sustainable future, and jailing those who try to hold governments accountable is incompatible with the democratic principles Canada purports to represent.”
Private law leads to lengthy sentences
Penalties for violating civil injunctions obtained by private companies can be far more severe than criminal sanctions. That's because people who enter exclusion zones are in contempt of a court order, which can result in indefinite jail time.
Some of the activists who are fighting the pipeline project have been inspired by the peaceful civil disobedience practised by Mohandas K. Gandhi in his efforts to end British colonialism in India.
In 1922, Gandhi invited a judge to impose the highest penalty possible on him for violating a law that he considered a crime.
"The only course open to you, the Judge and the assessors, is either to resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent," Gandhi stated, "or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country, and that my activity is, therefore, injurious to the common weal."
Prior to being appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court bench by the Stephen Harper-led Conservative government in 2010, Fitzpatrick specialized in bankruptcy, insolvency, commercial and banking litigation, and security realization at a downtown Vancouver law firm.
The Harper government ensured that the climate impacts of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would not be considered in its environmental review of the project.
Takaro's primary research has been on the effects of global heating on human health. He was an intervener in the review process, leading two major reports.
"Despite my expertise, my evidence of potential harms from this project have been largely ignored," Takaro says in the video above.