Woman arrested during Wet’suwet’en pipeline blockade found not guilty

Indigenous

A woman arrested during November 2021 police raids of a blackade of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project has been found not guilty of criminal contempt.

Sabina Dennis was acquitted on 1 charge of criminal contempt in B.C. Supreme Court

Jackie McKay · CBC News

· Posted: Nov 29, 2023 10:08 PM EST | Last Updated: November 30, 2023

RCMP tactical teams arrest people blockading Coastal GasLink’s pipeline construction in November 2021. (Michael Toledano ) B.C.’s Supreme Court has ruled that a person charged with contempt of court for breaking an injunction on the Coastal GasLink Pipeline was found not guilty.

B.C. Crown Prosecution Service confirmed with CBC that Justice Michael Tammen read the decision in Smithers, B.C., Wednesday for the trial of Sabina Dennis.

Dennis was arrested during a police raid to enforce the Coastal GasLink injunction on Nov. 18, 2021.

The 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline will feed natural gas from the area of Dawson Creek, B.C., to a liquefied natural gas terminal in Kitimat, along the B.C. coast.

Although the company signed benefit agreements with 20 elected band councils along the project’s route in 2018, several Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders say band councils do not have authority over traditional territories beyond reserve boundaries and the company does not have consent to cross their territory, about 780 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. 

“This is the first clear victory for the land defenders on the Wet’suwet’en yintah (territory) since the injunction was issued in 2019,” defence lawyer Frances Mahon told CBC. 

Dennis is the first person arrested during the Nov. 18 and Nov. 19 raids on Wet’suwet’en territory to go to trial on a criminal contempt charge.

“We are absolutely thrilled to see a shift in how the Canadian courts have been dealing with these questions,” said Mahon. 

Mahon said Dennis — a Dakelh woman — was invited to the pipeline blockade by members of the Wet’suwet’en to bear witness to the events, in accordance with Wet’suwet’en traditional law. 

Mahon added that Dennis’s role as a witness for the Wet’suwet’en is essential to the case because she was not there to bring societal disrespect onto the courts, which the Crown would need to prove in charges of criminal contempt. 

“For her to be acquitted in those circumstances really recognizes and affirms that role as witness,” said Mahon.  

In an email, the B.C. Prosecution Service said it is reviewing the judge’s decision and has no comment at this time. 

The trial for Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, Shay Lynn Sampson, and Corey Jocko, who were arrested at the blockade on Nov. 19, 2021, will start Jan. 8 at the B.C. Supreme Court in Smithers, B.C. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC Indigenous covering B.C. She was a reporter for CBC North for more than five years spending the majority of her time in Nunavut. McKay has also worked in Whitehorse, Thunder Bay, and Yellowknife.

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