Kinder Morgan drops suit against protestors

From: Alan Dutton, Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan
To: Burnaby Now
Date: February 5, 2015
Subject: Re: Kinder Morgan drops suit against protestorsDear Editor:Based on a Trans Mountain news release of January 30, 2015, the Burnaby Now reported that the subsidiary of the Texas-based Kinder Morgan oil company is “dropping its multimillion-dollar civil suit against all five Burnaby Mountain protestors and is willing to pay their costs.”However, Trans Mountain’’s news release must be read with a good deal of caution. While Trans Mountain promises to pay the costs of defendants, the company does not specify what costs will be compensated. Court regulations require plaintiffs that unilaterally discontinue a civil suit to cover only a small fraction of the court costs of defendants as punishment. In the case of Trans Mountain’’s civil suit, costs will likely amount to just few thousand dollars. The small amount of compensation is nowhere close to the tens of thousands in legal fees required for defense against the civil suit, nor does it cover damages and lost time to defendants.

In addition, Trans Mountain’’s promise to drop its civil suit offers little finality. Trans Mountain issued a unilateral Notice of Discontinuance not a Consent Dismissal Order. A Consent Dismissal guarantees that the plaintiff (Trans Mountain) cannot sue the five defendants again on the same facts. A simple discontinuance allows the Trans Mountain to bring another lawsuit against any or all of the defendants.

Two of the five defendants already had accepted a discontinuance without costs in mid-December. Two of the three remaining defendants had rejected Trans Mountains’ offer to discontinue without costs and without finality. Those two wanted finality and costs and were fighting for a Consent Dismissal.

As the fifth and final defendant, I rejected both the offer of discontinuance and a consent dismissal order. I took Trans Mountain to court in January to argue for a more comprehensive dismissal with costs and damages on the basis that Trans Mountain’’s civil suit was a SLAPP suit. SLAPP stands for strategic litigation against public participation, and such suits are used by large corporations to silence their critics and prevent them from protesting, thus denying fundamental democratic rights. The Judge decided not to strike the claims on the basis of court rules, which require an extremely high threshold to be met on application to strike at this preliminary stage.

I was on the verge of launching an appeal when Trans Mountain unilaterally issued a Notice of Discontinuance that protected the company from further court action against the civil suit. Meanwhile, all the allegations of conspiracy, assault, etc., and damage to my reputation and wasted time are left hanging.

What have we learned from Kinder Morgan’’s lawsuit and promises? A very intelligent woman named Sue explained to me via social media that the whole point of a SLAPP suit is to bring a lawsuit to make the little guy spend lots of time and emotional energy and money, and then drop it before it can come before a court of law where, in this case, the transnational would have to prove their allegations of conspiracy, etc. The transnational drops the SLAPP suit before it can go to court so that the threat of reviving the lawsuit continues to hang over the little guy. The transnational has to pay a portion of their funds to keep the suit “alive,” but it’s a small investment. As a portion of the little guy’s funds, however, it is huge. This is why anti-SLAPP suit legislation is so important in a democratic country like Canada. It’s the only way the big guys can be penalized for using the law in this way to silence their critics and stop protests. Thank you Sue!

This is why I refuse to settle, stay quiet or stop legal action and why I am fighting for anti-SLAPP legislation in B.C.

Burnaby Mountain ‘warrior’ stands up for us all

Author
Betty Krawczyk

Dear Editor:

Burnaby Mountain Warrior? It only takes one. And Alan Dutton, a retired professor, certainly takes that title in my opinion. He is the only one with the guts and the ability to stand up to what has been a conspiracy between the courts of this province, the resource extraction corporations and both provincial and federal governments. What do I mean by conspiracy?

Because all three of the above conspire to facilitate the use of injunctions to impose the intellectually conniving perceived rights of corporations over the natural rights of the earth and Her inhabitants. When citizens try to stop an obvious harm to land, waterways and habitat for all living things, the corporations turn to the courts. They know the B.C. courts are their friends. Most judges in B.C. were corporate lawyers before becoming judges. They are used to fighting for the artificially perceived rights of death dealing corporations rather than the natural rights of living things to clean water, food, and air to breathe.

But what are these injunctions? Most people know that in some way injunctions make people stop protesting a contested area like Burnaby Mountain, and some even know these injunctions are precipitated by something called SLAPP suits. What is a SLAPP suit? When I heard the actual legal title I was astonished. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. How anti-democratic! And blatantly anti-public! And anti-everything except the rights of courts, governments and the corporations they serve. However, with a copy of a SLAPP suit in hand to show they have civilly sued a protester, the corporation can take this back to the court and ask for an injunction (or even before the suit is filed). The judge will most certainly give the corporation the injunction requested (they refuse so rarely it isn’t even worth mentioning) et voila!

Now anybody who steps up to try to block any bit of the corporation’s right to do whatever they chose to do to an area will now be breaking a judge’s order.

The court seems to be taking a slightly different tack with Burnaby Mountain protesters than they did with me in the logging protests; instead of the humiliating demand for an apology to the court that I refused, the protesters are agreeing to some sort of settling out of court. Except for Mr. Allan Dutton, who is refusing to settle and is challenging the right of the courts to give out injunctions instead of using the Canadian Criminal Code to deal with protesters.

Okay, so how would that fix things if the Criminal Code was used instead? The Criminal Code has instructions for just about any crime or misdemeanour one can think of. Blocking a road is against the law. So is refusing to move when a police officer commands it. So the police would simply arrest whoever was breaking the law. And then in court a protester could have an actual trial where the contest would be between the protester and the corporation instead of between the protester and the judge for breaking the judge’s order. That’s why the corporations so love injunctions.

The protester can’t argue in court his or her reasons for trying to stop a destruction of the earth when one is arrested under an injunction. There is no defence for breaking a judge’s order. The question just becomes one of if the protester knew about the injunction and if he or she broke the injunction by refusing to move. That’s it. That is what the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP suits) culminate in, injunctions and humiliating retreats for the protesters.

Except occasionally, for whatever reason, a protester will refuse to retreat. Like Alan Dutton.

This resounds among the populace. It’s heartwarming. It’s hopeful. Courage is inspiring and it’s also contagious.

Alan Dutton, I understand, is to be back in the courtroom Jan. 19. I wish I could be there. Those of you who can, will you please attend and bear witness? And report the results? A warrior is going to be on the stand.

Betty Krawczyk, by email