The company that is logging a forest near Argenta will attempt to charge 19 people arrested on May 17 with criminal contempt of court.
The case is currently a civil court matter in which the logging company Cooper Creek Cedar (CCC) is suing the 19 arrested individuals for breaching a 2019 court injunction ordering them not to block the Salisbury Creek forest road.
The company’s attempt to switch from civil to criminal will take place in court at a date not yet set.
The group Last Stand West Kootenay set up camp in April on the road in the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, a stretch of forested mountainside between the east shore of Kootenay Lake and the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy near the community of Argenta.
On May 17, the RCMP arrested 19 of the protesters. Some were released immediately and others spent some time in custody and released the same day, but all were instructed to appear in court in Nelson on July 19.
On that date, the lawyer for the company, Matthew Scheffelmaier told the court that he intends to apply to have the matter turned over to the B.C. Crown, to prosecute the 19 people for criminal contempt of court.
Following the July 19 court proceeding, Scheffelmaier declined to explain the company’s intentions any further, but his application to the court asks that “the Attorney General be asked to assume conduct, on an ongoing basis, of criminal contempt proceedings against all individuals who have been or will be arrested for breaching the injunction … and to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the arrestees for criminal contempt.”
The application document states that it would be in the public interest for the Crown to take over the case, rather than it remaining a civil matter between a company and the protesters. A Crown prosecution would be in the public interest, the application states, because there is “organized public disobedience” of the injunction.
Noah Ross, the lawyer for 17 of the 19 people arrested, told the Nelson Star in a phone interview that having the case prosecuted by the Crown would mean a higher standard of proof.
“(The Crown has) a duty to act in the public interest and not pursue charges that don’t have a solid basis, whereas the company has no such public interest obligations.”
He also said that involving the Crown would probably be cheaper for the company.
“It’s possible that it offloads the costs onto the government,” Ross said. “And it also deflects some of the public attention away from the corporation.”
Ross said that whether the case proceeds through a civil or criminal process would make little difference in the outcomes for the people who were arrested. If they were found to be in breach of the injunction they could get jail time, a fine, or community service work. If they were found guilty of criminal contempt of court, they would not get a criminal record, he said.