Judgement reserved in Perry Ridge contempt case

Marilyn James is seen at a rally near the courthouse in March. She is defending herself against allegations of criminal contempt of court. - Kevin Mills photo
Marilyn James is seen at a rally near the courthouse in March. She is defending herself against allegations of criminal contempt of court.
— image credit: Kevin Mills photo

A BC Supreme Court judge will rule June 24 whether he thinks a Sinixt woman violated a court injunction and should be found in criminal contempt.

Marilyn James was arrested March 4 on the Perry Ridge forest service road in the Slocan Valley for allegedly breaching an injunction granted the previous day to Galena Contracting which prevented anyone from blocking the road.

A co-accused, Dennis Zarelli, pled guilty and received a 14-day conditional sentence. James, however, denies obstructing the company, which had a contract to extend the road for BC Timber Sales.

She argues crews were already at work when she arrived that morning and she did not have a key to the locked gate where she stood, whereas Galena owner Ray Hascarl did. She also claimed police didn’t verify whether she was impeding his access before arresting her.

Local Sinixt and their supporters maintained a camp just past the gate to protect what they say are their cultural sites. However, the provincial government does not officially recognize them as a First Nation.

On the final day of her trial last week, James testified she believed Galena “colluded” with the RCMP and Attorney-General to “entrap” her.

Under cross-examination, Crown counsel Iain Currie asked James repeatedly if she was there to prevent Hascarl from reaching the work site.

“I went up to stake my claim and tell Mr. Hascarl that he is a colonial thug,” she replied. She ultimately agreed she was prepared to block Hascarl, but added that she didn’t need to do so that day.

“You knew he was testing whether you would comply with the injunction?” Currie asked. “We knew the injunction existed and he was trying to entrap us,” James answered.

In his closing submission, Currie said the evidence showed James defied the injunction and by inviting others to join her on Perry Ridge, “indicated a knowledge and intention that the court’s authority would be depreciated.”

He argued that while James didn’t specifically state she wouldn’t let Hascarl pass, neither did she step aside when asked. Currie said under the circumstances, it constituted physically impeding Hascarl, contrary to the injunction.

“She went to Perry Ridge to assert her obviously deeply held and sincere position, determined to safeguard her people’s rights. In doing so, however, she defied this court’s injunction.”

James, who is representing herself, said in her closing statement that it was “premature to grant injunctions” when the Sinixt’s title claim hasn’t been resolved, which “makes lower courts susceptible to squashing the rights of aboriginal people.”

Justice Mark McEwan told James he was “prepared to accept you have a sincere belief there is a higher law than the law of BC and that before the laws are reconciled the government shouldn’t allow logging when there’s a question who’s entitled to the property.”

However, James said: “You’re going to do the same thing that all the other courts have done. Not look at once sentence … Not test the responsibilities of the court in any way or weigh or measure the evidence before you. That’s the treatment we’ve got from the courts for the last 25 years. I don’t expect anything else from you.”

James shouted at McEwan through most of the proceedings but also thanked him “for being very reasonable with me and explaining procedures.”

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