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Potential consequences of civil disobedience on Cortes Island

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Repeated violation of an injunction may increase the likelihood of a civil suit by the corporation that obtained the injunction. According to one lawyer, civil suits for damages are not common but have been brought against key individuals for the purpose of compelling a public apology. It is more common for a corporation to enforce an injunction and then let it drop.

Possible consequences

While courts do not generally invoke the maximum possible penalties, it is always possible that they will do so. The Protesters’ Guide to the Law of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia explains the maximum consequences and is necessary reading for persons contemplating arrest for peaceful civil disobedience.

The RCMP have the discretion to arrest persons committing peaceful civil disobedience under criminal statutes, although this is less common than a conviction for criminal contempt of court. According to the Protesters’ Guide to the Law of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia, mischief is the most common criminal charge. The offense of mischief is broad in scope and includes destroying, damaging or rendering inoperative property or preventing and interfering with its lawful use. It includes creating a human barricade so that no person can pass. When thirteen climate activists blocked a coal train In White Rock last spring, the RCMP exercised its on-the-ground discretion to charge them under Railway Act although the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway had obtained a court injunction that would have been grounds for arrest.

Consequences of having a criminal record, either for criminal contempt of a court order or for a crime such as mischief, can include limitation of job prospects, deportation from Canada for visitors or landed immigrants and difficulty entering foreign countries. Under the US Immigration and Nationality Act it is illegal to enter the US unless you have a waiver, which can take months and are valid for one year.

Once a person is arrested for blocking the activities of a logging company, they can be sued for the cost of their actions to the logging company. Claims for compensation can include: court costs; the pay of the crew that wasn’t able to do its work; the cost of leased machinery that stands unused; or loss of profits for interference in contractual relations, such as contracts for the export of logs. The logging company can decide whether to sue a single individual for all its claims, or sue everyone involved. If it receives judgment in its favour, it can enforce that judgment against only one person or against all who are named in it.

FAQs

Have people lost their houses?

To the knowledge of the lawyers I spoke with, this has never happened in the past. Civil suits have been brought but more often a corporation will drop a case once an injunction is enforced. One lawyer mentioned a modest claim for loss of wages in an action brought by union members against blockaders. Another was sued for $10,000 and the claim was dropped following a public apology.

Have people been barred from entering the US?

None of the lawyers were aware of a case in which a person had been denied access to the US on the sole basis of a conviction for criminal contempt of court.  

In one instance, a person with repeated convictions for criminal contempt of court was turned away due to more complicated circumstances. Both the US and Canadian governments are growing more strict over time. Canadian citizens with criminal convictions from the Clayquot blockade in general have travelled to and from the US without difficulty. Contempt of court may be treated differently than other kinds of criminal record. One lawyer thought a person would be more likely to be denied entry if they were going to the US for purposes of joining a protest.

None of the lawyers had heard anecdotally of difficulty entering other countries.

If I have been ordered to not return to the blockade site, can I return for purposes of support if I do not commit civil disobedience a second time?

That will depend on the breadth of undertaking, the specifics of injunction and the decisions of the RCMP.

What is jail like?

A  Clayquot veteran who was incarcerated three times in Nanaimo stated that he did not fear for his personal safety. The food was the worst part of his experience. The opening chapter of Betty Krawczyk’s book This Dangerous Place (available in ebook form from amazon.ca) describes her experience in a women’s correctional centre.

If I don’t want to get arrested, can I still come to Cortes to legally protest Island Timberlands’ planned logging activities?

Community organizers told the VO that supporters of the Cortes forests will play a valuable role by showing up at the site of the protests, whether or not they plan to risk arrest by physically blocking Island Timberlands’ access.

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