Harriet Nahanee, an aboriginal elder and activist, died recently at the age of 71. She had just been released from the Surrey Pretrial Centre after serving a two week jail sentence for contempt of court for disobeying a court order made in a civil proceeding in which she was not named as a party.

Harriet was one of numerous local people who congregated at a Sea to Sky Highway construction site to demonstrate their displeasure with the government decision to blast an overland route through the sensitive Eagleridge Bluffs ecosystem, rather than build a much less obtrusive tunnel.

No one was charged with any criminal offence as a result of the protest demonstration. Rather, according to the anachronsitic British Columbia method of dealing with such matters, the corporate contractors, Peter Kiewit & Sons Ltd., commenced a sham* civil lawsuit and obtained an injunction restraining anyone from being in the vicinity of the work site. Harriet and others were accused of contempt of court when they ignored the order, and they were sanctioned accordingly, in a process described by another B.C. jurist as “officially induced abuse of process”, the use of civil proceedings for a collateral criminal objective.

Ironically, 71 year old Harriet Nahanee, a gentle soul, frail and in ill health, spent more time in prison than serial convicted sex offender Tom Ellison, a middle aged teacher who sexually exploited his students, or Doug Walls, who was convicted of defrauding a bank of about a million dollars. Both were given conditional sentences, meaning they will spend no time in jail.

Here is the excerpt from the judge’s reasons on sentencing, fully explaining why Harriet Nahanee was sent to jail for fourteen days:

“I will next deal with Harriet Nahanee. Ms. Nahanee did not admit her contempt. She took the position that the court did not have jurisdiction over her and left the court, after I gave reasons on the preliminary issue involving the Royal Proclamation. She did not attend the balance of her contempt hearing. Ms. Nahanee demonstrated no remorse and did not apologize for her conduct. She was one of the most prominent and public contemnors. She, of course, made no submissions regarding an appropriate sanction and I have no information regarding her circumstances. I will sentence her to 14 days.”

One could well ask;

Did Harriet Nahanee’s punishment fit the “crime” of attempting to speak out against the desecration of the environment?

By jailing her, a respected aboriginal elder, did the court do anything to enhance respect for the rule of law?


*In my opinion, the civil action is a sham because it was not commenced for any reason other than to procure the arrest and punishment of those persons whose conduct the corporate plaintiffs found objectionable. As at least one judge has said, a proceeding like this is nothing less than an abuse of the court’s process, a civil action commenced for the collateral purpose of imposing criminal sanctions.