An award-winning poet and associate professor at Emily Carr University has been handed the longest jail sentence yet for someone protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project at a Burnaby site.
Rita Wong was sentenced to 28 days in jail by Justice Kenneth Affleck of B.C. Supreme Court on Aug. 16. The sentence followed Wong’s peaceful protest on Aug. 24, 2018 at Trans Mountain’s Westridge Marine Terminal. Protesters have previously received fines or jail sentences ranging from seven to 14 days.
In November 2018, Wong and Mairy Beam - who was also charged with violating a court injunction against blocking the entrances of Trans Mountain properties in Burnaby - asked Affleck to recuse himself from ruling on their criminal contempt of court case due to a “reasonable apprehension of bias.”
Affleck is the judge who approved the existing injunction.
The author of three books, Wong has won the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop Emerging Writers Award and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
“On 24 August 2018, while BC was in a state of emergency because of wildfires caused by climate change —breaking records for the second year in a row; putting lives at risk, health at risk, and displacing thousands of people— I sang, prayed, and sat in ceremony for about half an hour in front of the Trans Mountain pipeline project’s Westridge Marine Terminal,” Wong said in a statement posted to her Twitter account.
“I did this because we’re in a climate emergency, and since the Federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect us despite full knowledge of the emergency, it became necessary to act," continued Wong.
"We are in imminent peril if we consider the rate of change we are currently experiencing from a geological perspective – we are losing species at an alarming rate and facing mass extinction due to the climate crisis that humans have caused. This is the irreparable harm I sought to prevent, which the court, the Crown, and corporations also have a responsibility to prevent," said Wong.
Wong is currently serving her sentence. A GoFundMe campaign raised $17,000 in four days to help pay her legal costs and is now closed to further donations.