British Columbia’s Prosecution Service is considering criminal charges against dozens of people arrested for protesting Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
But it will be up to a pair of newly appointed special prosecutors to determine whether charges will be laid against Green party Leader Elizabeth May and New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart.
May, Stewart and several others were arrested on March 23 and charged with civil contempt of court over allegations that they protested within five metres of two Trans Mountain construction sites in Burnaby, B.C., despite a court injunction prohibiting the action.
The prosecution service says in a statement that it has conducted a general review of the cases and concluded that criminal contempt proceedings are warranted for those who were arrested after breaching the injunction.
The announcement comes after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck called last week for criminal charges to be laid against demonstrators alleged to have violated the court injunction.
The prosecution service said in a statement Monday that Assistant Deputy Attorney General Peter Juk has determined that appointing special prosecutors in the cases against May and Stewart are in the public interest.
“The appointments were necessary to avoid any significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of criminal justice,” the statement says.
Vancouver lawyer Michael Klein has been appointed to deal with the case involving Stewart, while Greg DelBigio, also a lawyer in Vancouver, will deal with the case involving May.
Klein and DelBigio will conduct independent reviews of the evidence to determine whether the actions amount to criminal contempt of court, the prosecution service says.
If they determine criminal charges should be laid, Klein and DelBigio will conduct also conduct the prosecution.
The B.C. Prosecution Service’s civil disobedience policy manual says whether contempt is a civil or criminal matter is determined by “the character and nature of the conduct.”
A dispute of civil contempt would remain between the parties involved, while criminal contempt involves the public interest in administering justice, says a copy of the manual posted to the B.C. government website.
“A criminal contempt often involves a mass disobedience of a court order which tends to bring the administration of justice into disrepute or scorn,” it says.