Betty Krawczyk, 78, an environmental activist, author, political candidate and great-grandmother, was today sentenced to ten months in jail for her part in a peaceful political demonstration against Olympic-related road construction activities at Eagleridge Bluffs in West Vancouver last year.

Betty Krawczyk

Betty Krawczyk

The judge said this: “In mitigation, Mrs. Krawczyk’s protests were not violent. She has no criminal record other than for contempt. She is 78 years old. She has contributed to society by raising children and grandchildren. ”

Although the province of British Columbia is considered a democracy governed by the rule of law, it is also a jurisdiction that has come up with a creative way of punishing political dissidents. Rather than have people charged with breaking laws enacted by their duly elected representatives, the conventional way of dealing with public disorder, the government enlists the courts to have objectionable conduct characterized as contempt of court. It does so by encouraging the use of injunctions issued in sham civil proceedings. There is no statutory punishment for contempt of court resulting from the violation of a civil injunction; it is entirely up to a judge’s discretion as to how to punish such a “contempt of court”.

In a way, it’s a relief that Ms. Krawczyk was sentenced to merely spend some 300 days in jail; the judge could have imposed any punishment available under the English common law. Theoretically, the judge could have ordered that Betty be hanged at dawn.

All glibness aside, we may really be on to something here. As the 2010 Winter Olympic Games approach, the government should prevail on the BC Supreme Court to issue injunctions restraining anyone from panhandling, being homeless, standing too long in one place, dressing inappropriately, and the like. Those who violate such court orders can then be locked up in jail for months so as not to embarrass the government when the five ring circus comes to town.

And in an ironic note…

When a group of Ms. Krawczyk’s supporters congregated in the lobby of the courthouse to protest Betty’s treatment by the court for violating its interim injunction in the Kiewit case, they were dispersed only after the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court issued a mandatory injunction ordering “any individuals blocking access and disrupting business…to immediately vacate the premises.” Presumably, anyone who ever disobeys that order will be subject to a jail sentence as well.

Here are some other things that have been enjoined by BC Supreme Court injunctions recently:

Reading a J.K. Rowling “Harry Potter” book: On Saturday, July 9, 2005, BC Supreme Court Justice Gill issued an emergency interim and interlocutory injunction restraining anyone from “displaying or reading [Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince]…prior to 12:01 a.m. local time on July 16, 2005”.

Living in one’s own house: In Atco Lumber Ltd. v. Faust, an injunction designed to stop environmental protest was set aside after local residents complained that the geographical “no go zone” in the injunction precluded them from living in their own residences!

Exceeding the speed limit on the Upper Levels Highway near Horseshoe Bay: It is not widely known, but the court injunction that was issued to Peter Kiewit Sons Co., the same injunction that landed Harriet Nahanee and Betty Krawczyk in jail, also prohibits anyone from travelling on the highway in the construction zone other than in accordance with all applicable traffic laws.

Using Harriet Nahanee’s sentencing as a sentencing standard, anyone who violated these court edicts could also have faced 14 days in the Surrey PreTrial centre, confined to a cell with dozens of real offenders.