A Slocan Valley woman charged with criminal contempt of court argued Wednesday that she did not obstruct a logging company on Perry Ridge.
Marilyn James of the local Sinixt First Nation was arrested March 4 on the forestry road for violating a court injunction granted the previous day to Galena Contracting, which was extending the road for BC Timber Sales.
However, she denied impeding the company’s access, contending that Galena already had crews ploughing the road past the gate where she stood and that owner Ray Hascarl had a key to the gate, although he told her otherwise.
James, who is representing herself, also told BC Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan that police didn’t ask her or her co-accused Dennis Zarelli any questions to verify they were actually violating the order before arresting them.
“Did you ascertain whether the gate was locked or unlocked?” she asked Slocan Lake RCMP Cst. Bill McKenna during testimony in Nelson on Wednesday. “Did you find out if we had a key? Did you go to the gate? Did you ask Ray Hascarl about a key?”
McKenna said he hadn’t.
“Aren’t these logical questions to make sure [we’re] guilty?” she asked.
“I would have been happy to take a statement,” McKenna said.
“But you didn’t do that. You came on me like an aggressor,” James replied.
Hascarl testified BC Timber Sales told him he was “obligated” to go to work, although he didn’t ask what would happen if he didn’t. He denied the crown corporation encouraged him to seek an injunction.
“No, their contract had a timeline they said they would extend if I got an injunction.”
He said the province informed him when he got the contract that it was contentious — local Sinixt and their supporters have a camp just beyond the gate to protect what they say are important cultural sites.
However, he believed the government consulted recognized First Nations before awarding the contract. The Sinixt aren’t on the list, as they haven’t had official status with senior Canadian governments since the 1950s.
Hascarl agreed his crew went up the road before James and Zarelli arrived and admitted he had access to a gate key, but told them otherwise.
“You lied?” James asked.
“Yes. I was scared for my safety,” he replied.
“We didn’t have a key so we weren’t impeding you,” James said.
James also refuted claims that when she and Zarelli were arrested their car was blocking the road, saying it was actually parked at a fork where other vehicles could easily pass.
“How did we cause you harm?” James asked.
“Stopping me from working,” Hascarl said.
“Yet you’re trespassing on unceded territory. How about the harm you’re doing us?” James asked.
A brief video Hascarl took of his encounter with James and Zarelli on the road that morning was played three times for the court.
Hascarl’s testimony ended the Crown’s case, which began a week ago Monday and resumed Wednesday. James called a supporter to testify that her car wasn’t blocking the road, as well as Zarelli, who recently pled guilty to contempt and received a 14-day conditional sentence plus probation.
Under cross-examination by crown prosecutor Iain Currie, Zarelli refused to agree that he intended to stop work planned that morning, or that he previously succeeded in preventing Hascarl from proceeding up the road.
“You intended to interfere with his work?” Currie asked.
“No, I believe you can’t overstep fundamental laws,” he said.
“You felt your rights were supreme?”
“I felt it was an abuse of process.”
The day ended with a testy exchange between McEwan and James.
“The only rights we have here are BC Timber Sales’ and the white man’s,” she said.
“Does it make you feel good to shout?” McEwan asked. “You seem to be under the impression you run this room. You don’t.”
The trial resumes Thursday at 10 a.m.