Were Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi criminals? Should people involved in peaceful civil disobedience of court orders be labelled as criminals? Ascendion Law will appeal the convictions of sixteen protestors found guilty of criminal contempt of court associated with their violation of the injunction surrounding the construction site of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain facility in Burnaby, B.C.
The evidence demonstrated that the protestors were peaceful and offered themselves to police on arrest. Each expected to be found guilty of contempt of court - in the civil sense. Each understood that each was violating a court order. To their surprise, the presiding judge, on his own motion, changed the proceedings so that Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC was no longer prosecuting contempts of court. Instead, Crown Counsel was invited to intervene and assume prosecution of criminal, not civil, contempt.
Ascendion Law argues in its written argument submitted to the court that the Crown must prove, and did not prove, that a party seeking to find another guilty of criminal contempt of court must prove that the alleged contemnor intended specifically to cause the court to suffer disrepute. Ascendion Law argues that based on the evidence, those involved in civil disobedience seek to affirm the court's authority since the contemnors expect to be found guilty of contempt by the court. Their peaceful protests have an expressive purpose that is not criminal in nature. To view a copy of our factum, click here.
This case raises important and significant issues of civil liberties in Canada. This case raises not just issues around freedom of expression, but it examines the nature and breadth of the court's authority and the extent to which the justice system can, or should, tolerate reasonable, peaceful dissent. That the appeal arises on a set of facts involving a major public undertaking and the extent to which society deals with climate change only makes this appeal that much more fascinating to argue, and watch.
We go to appeal on May 27. Stay tuned.