Wet'suwet'en Leader & Coastal GasLink Pipeline Opposers Found Guilty of Defying Court Order

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Wet'suwet'en Leader & Coastal GasLink Pipeline Opposers Found Guilty of Defying Court Order

Judge's gavel on the table (© Shutterstock/FabrikaSimf)
Judge's gavel on the table (© Shutterstock/FabrikaSimf)

A prominent Wet'suwet'en leader and two pipeline opponents were found guilty Friday of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order barring them from obstructing the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction.

According to a CBC News report published on Friday, January 12, 2024, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen issued the verdict in Smithers, concluding a week-long trial for Sleydo' (also known as Molly Wickham), Shaylynn Sampson, and Corey Jocko.

Each defendant faced one count of criminal contempt for knowingly breaching an injunction granted to Coastal GasLink in December 2019. The injunction prohibited protesters from interfering with pipeline construction work.

All three defendants pleaded not guilty at the trial's start. Sleydo' and Sampson were arrested in November 2021 at a tiny house on a Coastal GasLink work site, while Jocko was apprehended during a separate road blockade incident.

Justice Tammen cited overwhelming evidence demonstrating Sleydo's and Sampson's public defiance of the court order. This included social media videos expressing their intent to stop the pipeline and proof of their being informed of the injunction in September 2021.

In Jocko's case, Tammen acknowledged defence arguments questioning the clarity of the injunction's explanation during his arrest. However, he found video evidence sufficient to prove Jocko was aware of the order, citing a Coastal GasLink worker's clear verbal instructions and the leaving of an injunction copy with the group.

"Mr. Jocko either knew that his acts were in public defiance of the court order ... or he was reckless as to that fact," Tammen said in his ruling.

All three defendants have filed abuse of process applications alleging excessive force by the RCMP during their arrests and unfair treatment in custody. Justice Tammen will hear these applications before sentencing, which is expected to happen later.

Since conceptualisation, the Coastal GasLink project, spanning 670 kilometres (416 miles), has faced ongoing opposition from some Indigenous communities and environmental groups who raise concerns about its environmental impact and lack of consent from hereditary chiefs.

The court's ruling marks a significant development in the pipeline project's legal saga, highlighting the tensions between resource development, Indigenous rights, and environmental protection in Canada.

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