Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May pleaded guilty to criminal contempt on Monday, after protesting at a Kinder Morgan work site.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck also handed her a $1,500 fine, saying she had a higher responsibility than others who were arrested, considering her position as an MP, political party leader, and former lawyer.
May was charged along with Burnaby-South MP Kennedy Stewart on March 23 for violating a court injunction that required protesters to stay five metres away from the Trans Mountain terminal in Burnaby.
Special prosecutor Greg DelBigio pointed to aggravating factors, including May’s position of authority, in submitting the proposed $500 fine.
May’s lawyer pointed to mitigating factors including her lack of criminal record, her 40 years of public service and her willingness to plead guilty early.
May apologized through her lawyer, saying she “did not intend for her actions to be viewed as undermining the court.”
Affleck was unmoved by May’s apology.
“The law applies to everyone. Nobody is entitled to pick and choose the laws or the court orders that they will obey because they believe they have a higher obligation,” said Affleck.
“May exploited her role as a Member of Parliament and a party leader to encourage others to defy the injunction. I cannot accept a fine of $500 as recommended by the Crown and defence.”
May’s co-accused, Stewart pleaded guilty to his contempt charge in mid-May. He received a $500 fine.
Crown spokesperson Dan McLaughlin declined to comment on Stewart’s sentence at the time, but did say that convictions like his did not tend to produce a criminal record. Both May and Stewart will retain their roles as MPs.
The pair’s cases have been handled by two special prosecutors to avoid any perception of bias.
Speaking outside of court following her sentencing, May said she was “holding her head up high.”
“I clearly respect the rule of law,” May said.
“But in a democracy, there is room for non-violent civil disobedience.”
She denied Affleck’s accusation that she went to a public location for her anti-pipeline protest in order to draw media and public attention.
“I didn’t call the media for my arrest and I didn’t know media would be there,” May said.
“It was a personal decision, not intended to influence anyone else.”
|Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May talks to reporters after her conviction on criminal contempt charges. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
More than 150 other protesters are facing contempt charges. Trials have been ongoing since early May for those whose civil charges are being converted to criminal ones.
Crown lawyer Trevor Shaw, who is leading the prosecution for most of the accused, recommended fines of between $500-$4,500 and up to 14 days of jail time.
The sentences apply only to those pleading guilty.
May’s day in court comes just days before Kinder Morgan is set to announce its final investment decision on the controversial project on Thursday.
The company halted all non-essential work on the $7.4-billion pipeline expansion in early April, saying the B.C. government clearly did not support it.
Since then, amidst escalating legal battles between B.C. and Alberta, the federal government has promised to indemnify the pipeline’s investors against any losses.