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Criminal contempt trial of pipeline opponents begins in Northwest B.C.

Three defendants, including prominent Wet’suwet’en leader Sleydo’, face criminal contempt charges
People gather outside the courthouse before the Supreme Court hearing against pipeline opponents Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), Shaylynn Sampson, and Corey Jocko. (Morgan Powell/The Interior News)

The trial of three Coastal GasLink pipeline opponents for allegedly breaching a 2019 B.C. Supreme Court injunction against impeding progress of the pipeline project has begun in Smithers.

On Monday, Sleydo’ (also known as Molly Wickham), one of the primary Wet’suwet’en leaders of the resistance against the project, along with two co-defendants, pleaded not guilty to criminal contempt in the Supreme Court at Smithers.

Also on trial are Shaylynn Sampson, a member of the Gitxsan Nation, and Corey Jocko, who is Mohawk from Ontario’s Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Criminal contempt charges stemmed from a November 2021 raid by the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) of two cabins on the Morice Forest Service Road — part of a resistance encampment dubbed ‘Coyote Camp’ — at the site where CGL was preparing to drill under the Morice River (Wedzin Kwa). Over two days, police arrested 29 pipeline opponents including two journalists.

One of those journalists, Amber Bracken, was on assignment for The Narwhal. That publication launched a lawsuit against the RCMP, which is scheduled to be heard in court in October 2024.

During the two years following the issuance of the Supreme Court injunction, dozens of people were arrested during various police actions, but most were either not charged or charges were eventually dropped. In June 2022, however, the Crown decided to prosecute 15 of the 29 who were arrested in November 2021.

Five of those people have since pleaded guilty and received fines and/or community service sentences. One, Sabina Dennis, was found not guilty at trial in October 2023.

READ MORE: Five Coastal GasLink pipeline opponents sentenced for criminal contempt

The Crown’s case over the first two days focussed on testimony from and cross-examination of Julie Jones, a private investigator tasked by RCMP with collecting video evidence from social media; James Lank, a security advisor with Forsythe Security, Coastal GasLink’s security contractor; and RCMP corporal Kelly Grant, an officer who provided his own video of the arrest.

Other Crown witnesses include Clint Colwell, a construction manager with Coastal GasLink and TC Energy (CGL parent company) officials Jesse Erickson and Tom Munro.

Video evidence presented included social media posts documenting confrontations between pipeline opponents (including Sleydo’ and Jocko) and CGL workers and RCMP officers.

The trial is scheduled for two weeks ending Jan. 19 and is being heard by Justice Michael Tammen.

Coastal GasLink completed construction of the 670-kilometre pipeline from the natural gas fields in northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada’s liquefaction facility in Kitimat in October 2023. It has since changed the status of the project to “mechanically completed,” meaning it is ready to start transporting gas when the Kitimat plant is ready.

In December 2023, Amnesty International released a report condemning the treatment of and subsequent arrest of pipeline opponents as a violation of human rights.

- With files from Morgan Powell, Local Journalism Initiative

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