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B.C. climate protester sentenced for mischief, breach

"It is not wise to engage in civil disobedience," the judge said.
Vancouver Provincial Court.

A man who led protests that blocked major roads, access to a B.C. airport and emergency routes has been sentenced to seven days in jail and a 75-day conditional sentence order.

Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Reginald Harris characterized Muhammad Zain Haq’s actions as “the arrogance of ideals at the expense of the democratic process.”

Haq, 22, has become no stranger to B.C.’s courts as a result of his climate activism in recent years, some of it with the Extinction Rebellion group.

In February 2022, he was jailed for contempt of court by a B.C. Supreme Court judge for breaching a court injunction aimed at preventing disruption of work at the federally owned Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project in Burnaby.

The B.C. student, originally from Pakistan, has been arrested multiple times and is facing deportation as a result.

However, on July 5, he was before Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Reginald Harris after pleading guilty to five charges of mischief and one of breaching a release order.

“He is passionate about the environmental movement and the climate emergency,” Harris said. “It is not wise to engage in civil disobedience.”

The rule of law must be observed unless circumstances permit otherwise, the judge said.

In one situation, Harris said protesters had blocked Vancouver’s Burrard Street and, as a result, routes to St. Paul’s Hospital, in July 2021. Harris said 70 to 80 protesters attended and were soon told to disperse by police. Most did but the remaining 17 were arrested.

The judge said on Oct. 16, 2021, protesters met in Vancouver’s West End Nelson Park and then continued on to block the Georgia and Burrard intersection, another route to St. Paul’s Hospital.

The protest was allowed for a while after which police asked protesters to leave.

“Mr. Haq indicated he was not leaving and he was arrested,” Harris said.

On Oct. 25, 2021, Harris said, Haq and others prevented access to Vancouver International Airport by blocking Grant McConachie Way and Templeton Street. 

Eventually police asked them to disperse.

“Eighteen remained,” Harris said. Haq and 17 others were arrested.”

Harris noted the airport is Canada’s second busiest.

“Many travellers were delayed,” he said.

Additionally, Haq engaged in civil disobedience and encouraged others to do so and risk arrest when he led a protest from city hall to the CBC across the Cambie Street Bridge, the court heard.

That, however, Harris said, could put Haq in breach of a release order and could create problems with the Canada Border Services Agency.

Haq’s background

Harris said Haq was born in Pakistan and came to B.C. to study history. However, his student visa was revoked.

An order for Haq’s removal from Canada once his legal issues are done with already exists, the court heard.

With time served in jail Haq must serve 61 days of varying degrees of house arrest with curfews and perform 75 hours of community service. His sentence includes a prohibition on blocking any road, highway or public space in B.C.

Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno had asked Harris to send Haq to jail for 90 days and impose 18 months of probation. Haq’s lead defence lawyer Ben Isitt had argued for a conditional discharge.