The British Columbia Supreme Court has rejected a bid to extend an injunction that led to the arrest of 16 Tahltan Elders in northwestern BC in September. Lawyers for two Ontario-based mining companies, Fortune Coal Ltd. and Fortune Minerals Ltd. had asked the court to ban interference with their use of the Ealue Lake Road near Iskut, B.C. for another year, purportedly to enable the companies to continue exploration activities in the area, which includes the “Sacred Headwaters”.

However, Mr. Justice Robert Bauman found there was insufficient evidence before the court to justify such an order, and awarded costs of the failed application to the Tahltan defendants.

Defence lawyer Cameron Ward characterized the application as a transparent attempt by the companies to use the civil litigation process to impose criminal sanctions of arrest and punishment on persons engaged in peaceful political protest, pointing out that many members of the Tahltan Nation feel that there has been inadequate consultation with repect to the industrial activities planned in their traditional territory.

The civil injunction and attendant power to punish for contempt of court have long been potent weapons designed to quell protest activities in BC. In 1994, some 850 people were arrested in Clayoquot Sound and convicted of contempt of court after disobeying an injunction order in a civil proceeding brought by MacMillan Bloedel Limited. Most of those spent several weeks in jail. MacMillan Bloedel’s court action was later dismissed for want of prosecution. More recently, environmental activist Betty Krawczyk spent nearly a year in prison after she sat down on a public logging road in violation of a court order obtained by Hayes Forest Services Ltd. in a similar civil proceeding. Like MacMillan Bloedel before it, Hayes took no further steps in the civil proceeding after securing the arrest and imprisonment those disrupting its industrial activity.