Pipeline protesters including MPs Elizabeth May, Kennedy Stewart should face criminal charge: judge

The politicians were arrested after joining a protest against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline project in Burnaby, B.C., last month.

Green Party leader, NDP MP appeared in court Monday after arrest for civil contempt

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was arrested at a protest against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project on March 23. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

A B.C. Supreme court judge has recommended that protesters arrested at demonstrations against the Trans Mountain pipeline project — including two federal politicians — be prosecuted criminally, rather than in civil court.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart were among a dozen protesters who appeared in court on Monday on charges of civil contempt.

The politicians were arrested after joining a demonstration against Kinder Morgan's expansion project in Burnaby, B.C., on March 23.

They blocked the road, violating a court order to stay five metres back from company work sites.

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, centre, lined up with other protesters against a gate at a Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline worksite in Burnaby, B.C. on Friday — violating a court-ordered injunction to stay away from the company properties. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Civil contempt is not a criminal offence.

However, on Monday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge recommended the charge be changed to criminal contempt rather than civil, as the alleged contempt was against a court-ordered ban and not Kinder Morgan.

The case has been adjourned for a week pending a decision from the B.C. Prosecution Service.

Speaking cheerily outside court after her appearance, May said she wouldn't be commenting on what happened in the courtroom nor on the charges against her "out of respect" for the court process.

She did, however, reiterate her opposition to the project.

"We have a strong, factual case that this project is not in the national interest," she said. "British Columbians are not selfishly holding up something that would help all of Canada."

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May spoke to reporters after leaving B.C. Supreme Court on Monday. (CBC)

Stewart, MP for Burnaby South, said he was proud of the protests that have happened in the city, touting that one of them may have been the largest in its history.

"Those are the real numbers that matter," he said.

NDP MP Kennedy Stewart also appeared in court on Monday. (CBC)

Dozens arrested at protests

Thousands of protesters rallied against the $7.4-billion project at Kinder Morgan's Westridge Marine and Burnaby terminals over the month of March, according to RCMP.

Counting the politicians, more than 170 people were arrested for violating the court order within a week.

Activists had planned to continue daily protests until March 26, the environmental deadline for the company to finish clearing nearby trees before migratory birds began nesting.

Thousands of people marched during a protest against Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in Burnaby, B.C., on March 10. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Workers were said to have finished that job on time. However Kinder Morgan announced Sunday that it would be suspending non-essential spending on the project — a move that opponents in British Columbia say throws the future of the project into doubt.

The company said its decision was largely based on the B.C. government's legal challenges to the pipeline and the need to protect its shareholders. The deadline to reach agreements with its stakeholders on how to proceed is set for May 31.

The next court appearance for May, Stewart and around 25 other protesters is set for Monday.

With files from Megan Batchelor

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the attorney general's office has already taken over the case. In fact, the case has been adjourned pending a decision from the B.C. Prosecution Service on how to proceed.
    Apr 09, 2018 12:28 PM PT