A member of Parliament who is running to be Vancouver's next mayor has pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court for breaking a court injunction on March 23 to protest a major oil pipeline expansion project.
NDP MP Kennedy Stewart is one of over 200 people that have been arrested for blockading Kinder Morgan's pipeline terminal in Burnaby B.C.. He was arrested on the same day as fellow MP and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
"Many of the rules and laws that we benefit from now have been achieved through civil disobedience"
Stewart, who announced last week that he planned to resign his seat in Parliament to run for mayor, received a $500 fine, as recommended by the Crown prosecutor, Trevor Shaw.
In an interview with National Observer, Stewart explained why he violated the injunction.
"Mainly for me it was standing up for my constituents," he said. "The citizens of Vancouver need to be consulted more widely on this issue, and that’s something I may include in my platform (in the election for Vancouver Mayor) in the coming days."
Stewart knows that other arrestees are handling their cases differently, with some opting to go to trial. "I wanted to show respect for the court, and I thought this was the best way to do that."
Special Prosecutor, Michael Klein, took note of Stewart's early plea and recommended the court apply the standard $500 penalty, explaining that it has been "a very early resolution to the matter, and Mr. Stewart has not taken up significant time or court resources."
Judge Affleck said that he would normally be inclined to impose a higher fine, because Stewart and others had chosen to publicly defy the court’s orders in front of a large crowd and the media, but accepted Klein's advice, ordering that Stewart pay only the $500 penalty. This is the same fine imposed on others who have pleaded guilty so far.
The court cases come as a May 31 deadline looms over the project. Kinder Morgan has threatened to abandon the project claiming uncertainty caused by opposition from the government of British Columbia. The federal and Alberta governments have launched financial negotiations with the Texas-based energy giant in order to meet the deadline imposed by the company.
The court-ordered injunction places a five-metre exclusion zone around the perimeter of the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal in Burnaby B.C.. Protestors have been violating the order in acts of civil disobedience.
Richard Fowler, Stewart’s lawyer, argued that it is possible to engage in civil disobedience, while still maintaining the utmost respect for the law. He admitted his client had broken the injunction, but also noted that civil disobedience plays in an important role in a “healthy” democracy and justice system.
"Many of the rules and laws that we benefit from now have been achieved through civil disobedience," Fowler said. "Any number of minorities are now the beneficiary of rules that have been changed through their own acts of civil disobedience.”