VANCOUVER — A B.C. senior jailed for protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project makes no guarantee she won’t wind up behind bars again for her activism.
Laurie Embree, of 108 Mile Ranch, was arrested on June 19 for violating an injunction blocking protesters from interfering with work on the pipeline expansion.
The 70-year-old grandmother was handed a seven-day jail sentence July 31 after pleading guilty to criminal contempt of court in B.C. Supreme Court. She spent four nights at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge, getting out early because of good behaviour.
After serving her sentence, Embree said Tuesday that she doesn’t regret her actions and would continue to urge other activists to stand up against a project she believes the government must stop in order to protect Canada’s environment.
“It was definitely worth it, no matter how hard the beds were or how horrible the food was,” she said.
Embree has long been an environmentalist and advocate for clean energy, and has signed petitions and penned letters to politicians calling for the Kinder Morgan project to be killed, but her first boots-on-the-ground action against the pipeline was only this past spring, when she joined a march up Burnaby Mountain to the gates of Kinder Morgan’s oil tank farm. The federal government has committed to buying the pipeline and the expansion project from Kinder Morgan.
“The government isn’t doing what it needs to be doing and the only thing I can do is change my own life, do as much as I can, to not have a big carbon footprint,” she said.
“I’m sure there are tons of us out there just begging the province to try to get behind solar and wind, and alternative energies, but the oil and gas industries just has got them, shall we say, by the throat.”
So far, 214 people have been charged with contempt related to the protests and while Embree signed a statement swearing she wouldn’t violate the injunction again, she said her future actions will depend on how far other protesters are pushed.
“Every [Alouette Correctional Centre] guard said, ‘You won’t be back, right?’ ” Embree said. “I said no promises.”
An artist and gardener who over her years has spent time as a cow-calf farmer, bed-and-breakfast operator and foster parent of two children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Embree said her family is proud of her recent foray into activism and incarceration.
Embree said staff and inmates at the correctional centre were “great” and she was given a comfortable, forest green cotton sweatsuit to wear during her time there.
But she was also strip searched, found the cement beds “nasty, criminal” and called poor quality of the food shocking.
During Embree’s sentencing, Justice Kenneth Affleck said that while he had increased the fines and the number of hours of community work imposed on protesters over time, it had not had an adequate deterrent effect.
“I am not persuaded that either of the persons before me today are likely to repeat their contempt, but I am concerned that there needs to be a general deterrence,” he said. “It is regrettable that prison sentences must be imposed in the circumstances of these proceedings, but I am satisfied that that must now be the outcome.”
Crown counsel Monte Rattan told the judge that the continuing violation of the injunction at the site had called into question the effectiveness of the court’s order and the rule of law.
He said Embree in particular had been warned that if she didn’t stop blocking the site, she would face a jail term, but she did not stop, so nothing less than a jail term would be appropriate in the circumstances.
During her interview Tuesday, Embree read a brief statement she had prepared for Affleck: “Possibly, when people that are breaking the law are federal party leaders, Order of Canada recipients, presidents of teacher federations, environmental engineers, award-winning entrepreneurs, mothers and grandmothers, the real problem is the law and not the people that are breaking it.”
Embree called for Affleck to “stop punishing the people that are trying to protect the world” and for Rattan to “start looking at these dangerous seniors as wise elders, and stop defending the greedy people that are destroying the world.”
— With files from Keith Fraser