COLUMN: No justification for politicians facing contempt of court charges

Green Party leader Elizabeth May and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart are no heroes for breaching court order

For an issue so many people don’t really care about, we sure do seem to have spent a lot of time talking about the Kinder Morgan pipeline in this province.

An Abacus Data poll recently showed that the vast majority of respondents don’t have a strong opinion, one way or the other, about whether the pipeline should be expanded.

You don’t hear much from those people, of course. Who wants to talk about something you don’t really have an opinion on? And yet, here I am, writing a second column on the subject.

The thing is: being one of those neutralish people let’s one sense when one side has gone too far in their attempts to win this dispute.

In February, it was proponents blindly railing against foreign funding for opponents to the foreign-funded pipeline.

Last month, it was NDP member of parliament Kennedy Stewart and federal Green leader Elizabeth May getting themselves arrested for protesting at Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby site.

It was a great photo op, but cynical and ridiculous politics.

Kennedy and May weren’t arrested for something as harmless and childless as mischief, but rather on contempt of court charges for violating an order restricting where protesters could demonstrate. A judge has since ruled that the pair should face a criminal charge, and the case has been passed on to the BC Prosecution Service.

And rightly so.

Now, I think there is an argument for an average citizen deciding a court ruling is unjust in some way and being arrested as a way to make that point.

If you’re First Nations, you can claim rights and a level of ownership that predates the courts and was never legally signed away to the Crown.

But elected politicians who take an oath to that very Crown entity – meaning Canada and its laws – cannot be breaking court orders.

Our legislators create laws. The courts enforce them. That is the essence of our political system and democracy.

A legislator that breaches a court order is crying foul on the entire democratic system – and on their own jobs. And as much as some people yell silly things like that Canada isn’t an actual democracy, it is.

Scenarios in which it would be righteous for a politician to breach a court order do exist, but they mostly involve precursors or symptoms of authoritarianism, widespread disenfranchisement and/or dystopia – in the U.S. south prior to the enaction of civil rights laws, for instance.

Some defenders of May and Kennedy have tried to draw parallels to other famous disobedient figures, including Martin Luther King, the suffragettes and Nelson Mandela.

The comparison is so wildly wrong, it borders on the offensive.

Mandela, the suffragettes and King didn’t have a voice at the table – or even a chance to get to the table. They faced violence and ostracism for their beliefs.

May and Kennedy, meanwhile, will soon be back in the House of Commons, with their public profiles strengthened in their anti-pipeline ridings. It’s not much of a price to pay for an act that calls into question their very jobs as legislators.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter with the Abbotsford News.

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