Ten people were given conditional discharges and suspended sentences in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Supreme court on Sept. 6 for their role in the Muskrat Falls protests in 2016.
All 10 pleaded guilty to civil contempt of court by violating the Supreme Court injunction that Nalcor got from the courts in Oct. 16, 2016. The injunction named 22 specific individuals but included "any other persons found unlawfully occupying the project site.” Since the charge is a civil one, not criminal, none of the 10 will have a criminal record from these charges.
A number of people were charged in relation to the protests in Oct. 2016, which saw a large number of people protest at the Muskrat Falls site. Approximately 50 people entered the site on Oct. 22 and occupied it until Oct. 26. Some of the 10 sentenced were part of that group which entered the site.
Others have already dealt with their charges and have been given penalties ranging from suspended sentences to absolute discharges.
Jerry Igloliorte, Doreen Davis-Ward, George Cabot, Shanae Dicker, Brandon Cabot, Todd Applin Jr., Samuel Davis, Roger Shiwak, Celeste Anderson and Michaela Palliser-Flowers were the 10 individuals who appeared in court. Mark Gruchy represented a number of them and said under normal conditions they were law-abiding citizens.
“They were motivated by concerns flowing from their perceptions and experiences of their life in Labrador and their relationship with their land,” he said.
Grouchy asked for discharges for his clients instead of suspended sentences. While in civil court both penalties essentially amount to the same thing, a period where they are under undertakings to keep the peace and be of good behaviour among other conditions, Gruchy said the difference is symbolic and respects that almost two years has passed since the offenses.
“It would be a signal, I think, in the community that the court wishes to support reconciliation and the negativity that characterized this matter at the beginning does not need to persist and that our society as a whole is healing and we’re all going to move forward together,” Gruchy said.
Justice George Murphy said a concern of the court is that it sends the message that people understand that despite grievances they may have with decisions and projects, there is a proper and improper way to deal with it.
“The improper way is to violate orders of the courts,” Murphy said. “If we allow people to simply violate court orders as they wish then the society as we know it will gradually no longer exist.”
Murphy said he did recognize that a long time has passed since the offenses, that it would promote reconciliation, and that some of the people had only broken the injunction once. Those people, which included Samuel Davis, Roger Shiwak and Celeste Anderson, were given conditional discharges.
Some of the people sentenced are also facing criminal charges relating to the same protests. Doreen Davis-Ward, George Cabot, Roger Shiwak and Celeste Anderson are still facing criminal charges of unlawfully disobeying an order of the court and mischief relating to a testamentary instrument or property greater than $5,000. Cabot is also facing a charge of taking a motor vehicle without consent.
Over 20 other people are still facing civil and criminal charges relating to the Oct. 2016 protests, with hearings scheduled in Supreme Court this month and in October. A large group is also scheduled to appear in Happy Valley-Goose Bay provincial court on Nov. 19.