The trial of three members of an outspoken First Nations protest group opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project began in Kamloops provincial court on Tuesday (May 25), with opening statements.
Nicole Manuel, Chantel Manuel and Isha Jules, members of the Tiny House Warriors, face charges of mischief, causing a disturbance and assault, stemming from a conflict with security and police outside a Dec. 10, 2018, meeting on the campus of Thompson Rivers University.
The trio has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The incident took place at TRU’s Campus Activity Centre, where a closed-door meeting involving Natural Resources Canada, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, government officials, Trans Mountain personnel and First Nations leadership was being held.
Prosecutor Samantha Behling said the case is a simple one in which a small group of protesters, including the accused, visited the university that morning and deliberately spilled and spread a bucket of red paint on university property before entering the building, where their actions were captured on video.
The three defendants allegedly rushed the door to the room where the meeting was taking place and, in the process, allegedly assaulted three people.
Only Jules succeeded in entering the room, where he allegedly assaulted Chief Patrick Michell of the Kanaka Bar Band.
The incident concluded with all three people being arrested by RCMP and transported to the Kamloops detachment.
Behling said that while the backdrop to the incident touched on “overarching socio-political issues” surrounding the pipeline expansion, First Nations consultation and the environment, the Crown submitted those issues are separate from the trial.
“This is not a trial where the Crown intends to litigate anything other than then offences charged,” Behling said.
Each defendant has a lawyer, with Chantel Manuel’s counsel, Casey St. Germain, making an opening statement on the trio’s behalf.
St. Germain told the court the matter involves lawful, civil protest and not criminal activity.
“Canadian society and our laws surrounding freedom of expression recognize the right to dissent and the right to protest,” St. Germain said.
She said the evidence will show the three defendants were legally protesting a private meeting at which those without the power to grant consent sought to give consent to the pipeline crossing traditional Secwépemc lands, with the protesters viewing the crossing as an environmental infringement on their lands.
St. Germain said the evidence will fall short of proving the actions for which the accused are charged took place, noting the trio was greatly outnumbered by security and police.
“What your honour will see took place on Dec. 10 was another incident in Canadian history of arresting Indigenous women and men when they resist oppression and resist damage to their lands,” St. Germain said. “This resistance, we respectfully submit, did not take the form of assault, mischief or causing a disturbance.”
Photos and videos of the incident have been admitted into evidence and the Crown intends to call 16 witnesses to the stand, including police officers, TRU staff and security and representatives from Trans Mountain and Natural Resources Canada.