A group of outspoken First Nations protestors opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is alleging the Crown corporation behind the multi-billion-dollar project’s “biased spying” on them is motivated by racism.
Trans Mountain admits to keeping tabs on the Tiny House Warriors (THW) and other activist groups, saying it would be negligent not to do so.
The THW have staged a series of protests in recent years in Kamloops and in the North Thompson Valley in opposition to the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which is currently seeing work done in the city and region.
Three of the group’s members are slated to stand trial later this month on charges of mischief, causing a disturbance and assault stemming from a December 2018 demonstration that saw red paint spilled on the campus of Thompson Rivers University.
The offences are alleged to have taken place outside a building where former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci was helming a pipeline consultation meeting involving First Nations representatives. The meeting took place in rented space on campus and was not a TRU event.
Court has heard 23 security officers — 14 Mounties and nine civilians — were on campus during the meeting and seven people were involved in the THW protest.
In Kamloops provincial court on Thursday (Nov. 5), the three accused — Nicole Manuel, Chantel Manuel and Isha Jules — asked a judge to order Trans Mountain turn over all documents and correspondence it has related to the THW.
Defence lawyer Joe Killoran said access to information requests have resulted in the disclosure of some documents, which indicate Trans Mountain notified the Kamloops RCMP detachment of something ahead of the meeting.
“The facts of this case indicate there was an overreaction by police and Trans Mountain security,” Killoran said.
“There must have been something alarming in that notification because the Kamloops RCMP quickly assembles a team. … What information was the RCMP given to make them react — or, at least in defence’s submission, overreact — in such a way and be so fearful? Why were the applicants deemed threatening? Who was threatened? Why did they make that determination? Who made it?”
According to Killoran, the confrontation between THW members and police and security officers was the result of over-policing and Trans Mountain’s “hostile” bias toward the group. He characterized Trans Mountain as a “racist” corporation in its dealings with the THW.
Killoran said the redacted documents he has received from Trans Mountain contain enough information to show the company is “spying” on THW members.
“Trans Mountain only had hammers and made sure the applicants were considered nails,” he said. “That’s how they viewed them throughout.”
Trans Mountain lawyer Eric Gottardi admitted the company follows the activities of the THW and other protest groups that stand opposed to their business — building a pipeline.
“The Tiny House Warriors are, by definition, adverse in interest to Trans Mountain Corporation,” Gottardi said. “[The group] says that they are being monitored. My answer to that is, ‘Yeah, so what?’”
Gottardi asked Kamloops provincial court Judge Stella Frame to throw out the THW application, arguing it has nothing to do with the allegations against Manuel, Manuel and Jules.
“It’s not relevant to the issues you will have to wrestle with at trial,” he said. “It’s not relevant to the elements of the offences that will have to be proven at trial.”
Crown prosecutor Bonnie MacDonald agreed with Gottardi on relevance.
“What’s going to be discussed at trial is whether these three accused persons committed mischief at TRU by spreading red paint all over the place,” she said. “What’s going to be discussed is whether they caused a disturbance at TRU and whether anyone was assaulted.”
Frame said she expects to have a decision on Monday, Nov. 9.
The one-week trial is slated to begin on Nov. 16. Earlier in the day on Thursday, Frame ordered the trial be held in Courtroom 2D — the largest provincial courtroom at the Kamloops Law Courts — to allow as much room as possible, given COVID-19 provisions in place, for the parties, as well as supporters and spectators.