The leader of a 12-day blockade in front of the McLeod Lake Indian Band office earlier this year was ordered Friday to pay a $2,000 fine and issue a public apology after he was found guilty of contempt of court for defying an order to disband the protest.
Justin Chingee was also ordered to pay special costs which could be as high as $30,000, the lawyer representing the McLeod Lake Indian Band indicated during a hearing before B.C. Supreme Court Justice Linda Loo at the Prince George courthouse.
Chingee, who had lost the previous election for chief to Derek Orr, headed a blockade that lasted from May 24 to June 4 when RCMP moved in and made arrests after participants ignored a court-ordered injunction to disband the blockade that also included the band's natural resource centre office 104 kilometres north of Prince George.
About 19 people participated in the blockade, most but not all of who are members of the 503 member band that Loo said runs a "fairly sophisticated business operation" that generates $100 million a year in revenues through three companies.
Noting the blockade cost the band nearly $150,000 in legal costs, time lost and wages owed, the defendants had been seeking a fine of $10,000 to $30,000.
But Loo found $2,000 plus special costs was enough, noting Chingee has expressed remorse.
"I think Mr. Chingee has learned his lesson," she said at one point.
The protesters had called for a return to traditional governance by band elders and claimed a lack of consultation on a revenue-sharing agreement the band had reached with Thompson Creek Metals, which is building the Mount Miligan copper and gold mine between Fort St. James and Mackenzie.
Noting that in a letter to The Citizen, Chingee said the protesters had no recourse and the blockade was a last resort Loo said the protesters could have applied to bury the order.
"It is no answer to refusing to comply with a court order that the protest was peaceful, no property was being damaged and no one was hurt," Loo said. "It is no answer for defying a court order that the protesters allowed access to the band office so that certain members of the band could get their cheques or be paid."
Loo found Chingee may have been misguided by police reluctance to shut down a long-running occupation of the Gitxsan Treaty Society office in Hazelton by a group opposed to the society's endorsement of the Engbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
Loo found it somewhat strange and puzzling that police did not moved in sooner on the McLeod Lake blockaders. "However, the RCMP are not before me today, and I will make no further comment," she said.
Chingee must contribute the fine to the McLeod Lake Tsekehne Elders Society and issue a public apology that meets the plaintiff's satisfaction through ads placed in The Citizen, The Free Press and on Opinion 250 and perform 100 hours of community service work. Chingee was also issued a permanent injunction against staging any further blockades at the locations.
Band officials commended Loo's decision.
"The blockade caused great hardship for our members who were deprived of essential services while the blockade was up," the band said in a statement. "It causes massive disruption of our business and cost many thousands of dollars to the band."