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Ingmar Lee Online

An Account of the Sentencing of Betty Krawczyk

Published on Counterpunch 

I arrived at 800 Smithe St, Vancouver, -the Supreme Court of BC at the designated hour of 8am on Monday, March 6th/07. I was there to support the redoubtable Betty Krawczyk, British Columbia's most famous and beloved 78-year-old, non-violent, civil-disobedient ancient forest protection activist as she was sentenced to jail, once again, for standing firm against the wanton destruction of rare, ancient forest ecosystems.


I didn't see any other treehuggers around at first, but in preparation for the events ahead, I took a few pictures of the entrance to the hallowed halls of British Columbia justice. Immediately I pulled out my camera, and a Sheriff came charging out of the building and told me that if I was intending on coming in, I would have to check it in at the front desk. Having crashed at a friends place the previous night, I had a small suitcase with me and a satchel containing some blankets, random bicycle tools, books etc. which would also have to be checked in.

By 8:30 am, a crowd had begun to shape up which became identifiable as supporters of Betty. Soon there were about 50 of us. At that point someone came out and said that Betty would be arriving at the other end of the courthouse, so we should walk to the other end of the block, which we did. When we arrived at the other end, we encountered a much larger crowd which had assembled there. There were a lot of cameras and a large media presence and a good deal of excitement as the crowd anticipated the arrival of Betty. She then pulled up in a taxi and strode up the stairs to give her last interview to the media. As she was speaking, someone came by who warned me that everyone who wished to be in the courtroom was being searched, so we'd better get in the queue. Things were happening pretty fast.

I got into the queue just ahead of Adriane Carr, Paul George and Joy Foy, (-the only three of BC's prominent environmentalists who bothered to attend) and as we stood in line to get searched, I saw Betty walk by, alone and totally focussed, heading into the courtroom through the same entrance as us. She passed ahead of the crowd, and then disappeared down the steps into the "Bunker" courtroom, which was specially built in the basement of the building for the Air India terrorist trials. Security was taking its time, but somehow, there was an expectation that in spite of the strict security requirement, that the trial would at least wait for Betty's supporters to get searched and then to fill the courtroom. The three security guards were labouriously searching through peoples pockets, confiscating certain items which could not be allowed in the court, ie: machine-guns, knives, cameras, food, cream pies or tape-recorders.

Luckily, the search wasn't quite as comprehensive as expected and after turning over my suitcase to the protection of the court, I was allowed to descend into the Bunker. As soon as I got in, I saw that about 40 people had preceded me, and the gallery was about 30% full. I saw a woman speaking from the front of the room and I could see Betty sitting there all alone,  below. As I took my front-row seat, I realized that this was "Madame Justice" Brown herself already at work, reading out her sentence. They had already begun, but most of the courtroom was still empty, while the queue crawled slowly through the extremely zealous security. Actually, I must have been one of the last who got in, -Adriane, Paul and Joe didn't make it.

Brown's statement was a damnable, rotten piece of work, shockingly rude and nasty, and blatantly vindictive towards Betty. I have been endeavouring to get a transcript, (see below -Ing) as this sentence-statement by the Judge so amply clarifies the depths to which the quality and integrity of our legal system has plummeted. Brown is clearly furious with, and despises Betty, perhaps moreso since she cruelly sentenced Betty's partner-in-crime, the frail 71-year-old Pacheena Elder, Harriet Nahanie to 14 days in the Surrey Pre-Trial Remand Centre, a hideous "Hell-hole" dungeon. The Judge was overtly angry that Betty has been emphasizing this sordid aspect of this sorry saga. Brown's statement, and whatever she said at Harriet's sentencing epitomizes just how shameless, grovelling, evil and corrupt our legal system really is.  Anyone who knows Betty Krawczyk or Harriet Nahanie, anyone who has met these women, for anyone who has ever given them the time of day knows that these brave women are not criminals. They are gentle, ferocious pacifist, feminist mentors, icons of determination, courage, honesty and human decency, -tireless and relentless activists for the protection of our planet. In short, they are heros, whose fame and reputation is increasing by the day. I was utterly disgusted in that courtroom and I joined into the chorus of jeers that rang out as soon as the cowardly Judge read out her sentence to Betty. "I sentence you to 10 months" she said, and then repeated it. It was a petulant slap in the face from a  pompous, remorseless bureaucrat who had just three weeks ago issued the death sentence to Harriet Nahanie for "disrespecting the court." 

It's not as though there was no precedent by which the corporate-lackey Brown-noser Brown and the BC legal system could have used discretion in dealing with Betty, Harriet, or any of the Eagleridge Heights protesters. Justice William Grist in May, 2006 could have refused to grant the American developer Kiewit their injunction and insist that the authorities arrest Betty using the existing legal framework. The police should have arrested Betty, Harriet and the protesters immediately and charged them as was their duty, instead of waiting around for the court injunction.

Several years ago the late Madame Justice Quijano refused to issue the Gordon Campbell government a court injunction to remove protesters from their proposed 150-slot Winnebozo parking lot which they wanted to plow out of the forest at Cathedral Grove. The Judge remarked that should the government wish to remove the protesters, it had all the means available to do so using existing laws. This is exactly what Betty is after, -she wants to be treated just like any other criminal ~ by getting arrested and then making her case before the court. She simply wants a fair trial so that she can expose the rot and corruption which is destroying our forests. There is no possible court challenge for those who defy a court injunction, -which is pretty ideal for situation all Neocon zealot governments love. After the Campbell government was not able to get its court injunction at Cathedral Grove, it preferred to suffer a belligerent and humiliating Treesitting blockade along a busy highway for two years rather than use existing laws to arrest the protestors. Ultimately they capitulated and gave up on their parking lot scheme, rather than face forest-loving citizens in court. The government was stymied because its logging policies are indefensible and cannot stand up to any kind of court challenge.

 Once Betty had been sentenced and had left the courtroom, we climbed the stairs out of the Bunker, gathered up our belongings from the security and emerged to find the other 100 supporters who had been barred entry to the courtroom angrily describing their experience to the cameras. People were very angry and upset and there were a lot of tears. There were sustained, powerful 10-minute continuous Shame! Shame, Shame!!! chanting sessions which filled the whole courthouse right up to its soaring glass ceilings. And a large contingent of First Nations women struck up their drums and sang a very beautiful dirge which went on and on, and got everyone singing. After about an hour, it seemed like things were wrapping up, but when Jeremy got up on a wall and suggested that we should stage an impromptu march around the court building, everyone joined in.

But when we got around to the opposite side, everyone suddenly turned spontaneously and filed strait into the doors at 800 Smithe. We all marched right into the building and when the Sheriffs set up a cordon at the secondary doors into the inner sanctum, 18 of us sat down and blocked the doors. About 60 people milled around the rotunda. They were only allowing lawyers through the cordon, but as it turned out later, we shut down the Supreme Court of BC for 3 hours. All the media was crowding the windows as cameras are not permitted in the building.

Eventually, a Sheriff came rushing down and announced that he was serving us with, ~yep, you guessed it, -another court injunction, and that we had 60 seconds to get out of the way. At this time a dozen RCMP officers arrived to make the arrests, so having disrupted the court for three hours most of us got up and moved, but it turns out that 2 people did get arrested. We didn't have to move far though, because it was interpreted that the injunction specified that while the protesters could not block access to the court or interfere with the process of justice,  that didn't preclude them from milling around and loitering in the lobby. Treehuggers loitering around the BC Supreme Court can be pretty annoying, apparently. Gradually, over a period of another 45 minutes, the Police moved up their cordon and pushed us out of the building. Then the demonstration continued for another hour outside the door, and during this time the Police refused entry to everyone, including the lawyers. We chanted and the First Nations drummers sang and danced.

This spontaneous demonstration kept getting new life breathed into it and every time I got ready to leave, something else happened. For the final event, I was watching as a taxi pulled up and saw the media rush over. Suddenly British Columbia's Attorney General Wally Oppal himself, -the Supreme Representative of the BC Legal System and Betty's nemesis, emerged from the car and the media immediately swarmed him, eager to hear about his recently divulged prostate issue. Oppal obviously does not have a clue about the internationally-recognized case of Betty Krawczyk, and the shame and ill-repute her dreadful  treatment has brought down on the BC legal system. Immediately the Oppal was recognized, sustained shouts of Shame! Shame drowned him out and finally drove him back into his taxi and he was taken away.

Here are a few words from Betty's blog regarding Oppal:  "...Recently Mr. Wally Opal on CKNW said that anybody in BC facing prison time could have a jury trial. But when I called into the program and advised Mr. Opal that I was facing prison time on a Criminal Contempt of Court charge and wasn't allowed a jury trial he said well, in my case the judge was quite right not to allow me a jury trial; as I was arrested under civil contempt and that civil contempt did not warrant a jury trial. And yet here I am, once again convicted of Contempt of Court, not Civil, but Criminal, minus a jury trial, or the protections of the Criminal Code. My Lady, the very expediency of this method of depriving citizens of their lawful rights when they seek to protect the environment from corporate predators is quite remarkable. I protest this, My Lady, and will protest it with my dying breath..."

I encourage people to take the opportunity to visit Betty. If you have got any faith at all that justice is possible in British Columbia, or that environmental issues can be forwarded through due process through our institutionally corrupt government and legal mechanisms, then you need to see the reality of our deeply rotten system. You'll get that direct experience and see for yourself by visiting dear Betty in jail.


Judge Brown's Sentencing Statement:




R. v. Krawczyk,

2007 BCSC 345

Date: 20070305
Docket: 23929
Registry: Vancouver



Betty Krawczyk

Before: The Honourable Madam Justice Brown

Oral Reasons for Sentence

March 5, 2007

Counsel for Crown

M.J. Brundrett
J.P. Hermanson

Appearing on her own behalf

B. Krawczyk

No other appearances

Place of Hearing:

Vancouver, B.C.

[1]                THE COURT:  Mrs. Krawczyk is before me for sentencing following her conviction for criminal contempt.  Mrs. Krawczyk was convicted of criminal contempt for breaching the May 15, 2006 order of Mr. Justice Grist on three occasions:  May 25, May 31, and June 27, 2006.  Mrs. Krawczyk was arrested on each of those occasions.  After each arrest, she was released on her undertaking.  On July 7, 2006, Mrs. Krawczyk was incarcerated when she advised the court that she would no longer undertake to abide by the court order.  She was released on August 2, 2006, when she renewed her undertaking.

[2]                The sentencing principles which guide me were discussed in International Forest Products v. Kern, (2001), 151 C.C.C. (3d) 520, 2001 BCCA 48.  There, the British Columbia Court of Appeal said:

    Sentencing for criminal contempt must be guided by principle and no better guide exists than those Criminal Code provisions which largely codified the judge-made rules on sentencing.

The Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46 sets out the purposes of sentencing in s. 718: to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful, and safe society, with the objectives of denouncing unlawful conduct, deterring the offender, separating offenders from society where necessary, assisting in rehabilitation of offenders, providing reparation to victims and the community, and promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders.

[3]                A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.  A sentence shall be increased or reduced to account for relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances.  A sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences in similar circumstances.  An offender should not be deprived of liberty if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate in the circumstances.  General and specific deterrence are prime considerations in sentencing for criminal contempt.

[4]                This is Mrs. Krawczyk’s fifth conviction for criminal contempt.  In 1993, her first conviction, she received a sentence of 45 days.  In June 2001, she received a six-week sentence in addition to three weeks in pretrial custody.  In June 2001, the Court of Appeal reduced an earlier sentence of one year to four months, time served.  In October 2003, Mrs. Krawczyk was sentenced to six months in addition to four months of time in custody.

[5]                In addition to her record, there are other aggravating factors here.  Mrs. Krawczyk breached the court orders with planning and deliberation.  She used her breach and arrest to obtain publicity for her cause.  Through her conduct, she encouraged others to breach the court order.  She has no insight into and no concern about the harm she has caused.  As her submissions to the court indicate, she is likely to reoffend.

[6]                In mitigation, Mrs. Krawczyk’s protests were not violent.  She has no criminal record other than for contempt.  She is 78 years old.  She has contributed to society by raising children and grandchildren.

[7]                The Crown, referring to Mrs. Krawczyk’s previous convictions and to the aggravating and mitigating factors, suggests that a sentence of nine to 15 months is appropriate.  Mrs. Krawczyk referred me to a number of letters from supporters who urged the court not to send Mrs. Krawczyk to jail.  Mrs. Krawczyk makes no submissions with respect to appropriate sentence.  She says, as she has on earlier occasions, that she will not pay a fine or comply with any conditional sentence.  She will not perform community service.  She insists on jail or nothing.

[8]                Criminal contempt is a serious matter, as Mr. Justice Wood explained in R. v. Bridges (1989), 61 D.L.R. (4th) 154:

    The fragility of the rule of law is such that none of us who seek to enjoy its benefits can be permitted the occasional anarchical holiday from its mandate, no matter how compelling or how persuasive may be the cause that such anarchy seeks to advance. Furthermore it is only through the rule of law that any meaningful, lasting or effective change can be wrought in the law.  Thus it is that by seeking to change the law by deliberately disobeying it you threaten the continued existence of the very instrument, indeed the only instrument through which you may eventually achieve the end you seek.  Such conduct is not only illegal, it is completely self-defeating.
    … The breach of an order of this court is not a crime against the judge who issued it.  It is an attack upon the institution itself, that institution which alone stands between the rule of law and anarchy.  The inherent jurisdiction of this court to punish for contempt does not exist for the purpose of preserving judicial vanity.  It is the sole device by which the court can ensure its own continued effectiveness in the struggle to preserve the rule of law.  Thus it is that the more serious the contempt, the more serious the threat to the rule of law.  In the whole spectrum of conduct classified as contemptuous, there can be none more sinister or more threatening than that of organized large-scale deliberate defiance of an order of the court.

[9]                The sentence which I impose must be sufficient to deter Mrs. Krawczyk and others from similar conduct.  It must reflect the seriousness of the offence which has been committed.  Mrs. Krawczyk has been warned repeatedly by this court and by the Court of Appeal that she will face increasingly more severe sentences.

[10]            In my view, a fit sentence in this case is 10 months without deduction for the 26 days she has served.  Here, as in her 2003 sentencing before Mr. Justice Harvey, Mrs. Krawczyk was not confined by an order of this court, but because she indicated she would not abide by the May 15, 2006 order.  Mrs. Krawczyk was incarcerated at her own option and it would not be appropriate to deduct this time from her sentence.

“B.J. Brown, J.”
The Honourable Madam Justice B.J. Brown