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Two-year suspended sentence for man found guilty of violating Nalcor injunction at Muskrat Falls

Court news.
Court news.

One of the people who breached the Muskrat Falls worksite in October of 2016 was found guilty of civil contempt of court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on May 5.

Richard Chaulk pleaded not guilty to the civil charge, alleging he was not aware of the injunction issued by the courts on behalf of Nalcor that prohibited trespassing on the site, as well as other activities.

“The sole basis upon which Mr. Chaulk contested the allegation of civil contempt of court is his contention that he did not know about the Injunction at the time he trespassed on and occupied the Project Site,” the decision stated.

That is an important point because intent to not comply with the injunction is a necessary component in finding an accused guilty of this crime, according to the decision.

In his written decision issued on May 10, Justice George L. Murphy said while there wasn’t sufficient proof Chaulk was aware of the terms of the injunction he believed an element of ‘willful blindness’ was at play on the part of Chaulk.

Murphy noted in his decision that Chaulk never contested that he was part of a group who entered the site on Oct. 22 or that he was one of those who occupied the accommodations building on the site. Chaulk had only stayed there overnight, leaving the following day due to work commitments.

Chaulk told the court he had been in Labrador City working for the two weeks prior to him entering the site and had only arrived back in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Oct. 21 or 22. He had then joined the protests but claimed to not know of the injunction.

Murphy wrote in his decision that while there was no proof Chaulk had been served with the injunction that is not necessary to prove we was aware of it.

“There is no requirement in law that there must be proof of service of a copy of an Injunction on a person in order to establish that proper notice has been given. Instead what is required in most circumstances is either proof of personal service or actual personal knowledge.”

Murphy noted that a copy of the Injunction had been posted at the main gate to the Project Site at all times since it was granted on Oct. 16, 2016 additional copies of the Injunction had been placed on and around the main gate since that same date. This is the same gate Chaulk and others had gained access through on Oct. 22.

He also pointed out that Chaulk was only at the protest site for a short time prior to entering the site and had been on the opposite side of the highway from the main gate during that time. However, he said it also appropriate to take notice of the fact that the existence of the injunction was widely reported on by the news media and widely discussed on social media in the community.

“The foregoing evidence causes me to strongly suspect that Mr. Chaulk was aware of and had knowledge of the Injunction on October 22 – 23, 2016, however the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt and I am not satisfied to that standard that he had actual knowledge.”

His conclusion that he isn’t satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt Chaulk had actual knowledge does not, however, end the matter because “Chaulk’s conduct in this matter raises the issue of willful blindness.”

Murphy wrote that his belief is willful blindness can be sufficient in certain circumstances to establish liability for civil contempt of court in place of the requirement for proof of proper notice of the Injunction.

“Otherwise, a person by their conduct can intentionally and deliberately choose not to apprise themselves of an Injunction or other court order when the circumstances are such that they had an easy opportunity to do so and they should have been alert to the need to do so. That is precisely what happened in this case. Mr. Chaulk in his testimony acknowledged that he was aware that he was not allowed to go on the Project Site. “

Murphy said that when Chaulk was cross-examined about the fact that a copy of the Injunction was posted on the main gate which he had to pass by in order to enter upon the site. Chaulk made a number of statements during this cross-examination including; that he never had time to stop and read the signs; that he didn’t pay attention to his surroundings; and that he wouldn’t have stopped to read the signs anyway.

“Mr. Chaulk knew he was not allowed to go onto the site and he made a conscious choice not to inform or apprise himself of the Injunction despite the fact it would have been very easy for him to have done so and he should have been alert to the need to do so.”

Murphy sentenced Chaulk to a two year suspended sentence with conditions to remain away from Nalcor work site and uphold the injunction order.

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