Statement Before Sentencing For Violating TransMountain Injunction: Will Offley

Will Offley

[Will Offley was sentenced to 14 days in prison]


In the last year the Court has seen people from all walks of life, class backgrounds, nationalities and political persuasions appear, charged with the same allegation, criminal contempt of court, for blocking Trans Mountain’s operations. 

What unifies us all is the shared understanding that humanity is teetering on a precipice, and only decisive action to reverse climate change can prevent an unprecedented catastrophe.

I think that as in every sentencing hearing the court should take into account the contextual circumstances of this case —namely: the very real threat to humanity’s existence, our motives, and the political realities we faced.   And for that reason I am asking the court to exercise its discretion to impose the most lenient possible sentence on us and on all other defendants. 

This is why --- daily we are reminded by scientists that we are in the early stages of the Sixth Extinction. The situation we are responding to is absolutely unprecedented in the whole of human history. 

The crisis we face is not diminishing.  Instead, it is accelerating.  July was the hottest month in recorded human history. 

In April of this year, Environment and Climate Change Canada published its first national assessment report on climate change which found that the climate change escalation rate in Canada is DOUBLE that of the rest of the world. 

Two months ago the Australian thinktank Breakthrough Centre For Climate Restoration published a series of papers on the climate emergency.  They stated – and I quote  “the world now faces existential climate change risks which may result in outright chaos and an end to human civilization as we know it.”  It talks of 100 million city dwellers who may be dislocated by sea level rise by the end of the century.  It talks of the likelihood of hundreds of millions – perhaps billions – of climate refugees driven from their homes by drought, famine and lethal heat.  It talks about the impact of such unprecedented social calamity and of its likely consequences – war and the threat of nuclear war.

This is written, not by Greenpeace, not by Extinction Rebellion, but by Ian Dunlop, the former chair of the Australian Coal Board.  The foreword was authored by Admiral Chris Barrie, the former head of the Australian armed forces.

 It is impossible to conceive of any situation where the threat to humanity could be more extreme, or where the stakes could be higher.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s October 2018 report raised the alarm that in order to have any chance of avoiding a 2 degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures by the end of the century, greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut 35% by 2030 and to net zero emissions by 2050, the blink of an eye in geological time. 

This will require an enormous retooling of our economy, our social and environmental priorities, and a unified effort on a scale only previously seen at the start of the Second World War. 

The good news is that the IPCC tells us the scientific and technological capacity exists to make such an effort possible.

The bad news is that almost without exception governments have been refusing to make this effort.

Today, faced with global warming, we no longer have the luxury of time.  If climate change had been addressed directly, 40 years ago, when science started issuing its first warnings of what it signified, a serious danger could have been averted with relative ease. 

But in the four decades since Exxon’s own scientists first raised the alarm, any attempts at change have been blocked by a mountain of corporate lies from Exxon, Shell and the rest of the fossil fuel industry, and a mountain of political lies from Republicans and Democrats, from Conservatives and Liberals. 

Our current prime minister was elected on promises of adherence to the Paris Accord target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, of reducing fossil fuel subsidies, of fixing a broken NEB, of genuine consultations where only communities give permission. 

What he delivered instead was the image of consultation and the reality of broken promises from a petro state resting on armed force to push through its pipelines. 

I do not use the term petro state lightly.  But how else can you characterize it, when you examine how the issue of climate change has been dealt with at every level of government?

The National Energy Board refused the City of Vancouver’s application to hear evidence in its initial hearings on the impact that the Trans Mountain project would have on increasing GHG emissions from the tar sands, increasing Canada’s contribution to global warming, and making a mockery of Canada’s so-called commitment to the goals set by the Paris Accord.

Marc Eliesen and Robyn Allan — ex-CEO’s of BC Hydro and ICBC respectively, and expert intervenors at the NEB— resigned in protest of fatal due process violations at the NEB, including refusal to allow public input into the scope and parameters of the NEB review; refusing to allow oral cross-examination; refusing to compel Trans Mountain to answer questions; and refusing to include examination of the risks of climate change, all fundamental aspects of the Rule of Law.

The Ministerial Panel compounded this, refusing to deal with climate change and rubberstamping the project.

The Cabinet approved it, repudiating its election promises and the Paris Accord.

The Federal Court of Appeal in the Tsleil-Waututh decision did not require a new NEB process to deal with the issue, and the NEB then point blank refused an application from Standearth to permit evidence on climate change to be entered.

And the Prime Minister?  The very day of the Federal Court of Appeal decision he made it absolutely clear that he is determined Trans Mountain will go ahead, tweeting “the federal government stands by the TMX expansion project and will ensure it moves forward”.

At every turn our “robust democracy” has systematically shut out every attempt by multiple intervenors to raise the issues and to change public policy within existing political frameworks.    We do not live in a robust democracy.  We live in a corporate oligarchy.

On every key occasion we discover that democracy exists for the Trans Mountains of the world, but not for individuals who will suffer and die from their policies.

I do not believe that taking into account the documented reality of the effects of climate change would be to open the floodgates where anything goes. 

Instead, it is a matter of asking that justice be alerted to social, political, and -- yes -- scientific realities outside the courtroom.

It is ironic that civil disobedience seems only acceptable when it lies comfortably in the past

In 1946, Viola Desmond was prosecuted for challenging racial segregation in Nova Scotia by refusing to leave a whites-only area of a movie cinema. That incident propelled the civil rights movement in Canada.

In 2010, Ms. Desmond was granted the first posthumous pardon in Canada and the government of Nova Scotia apologized for prosecuting her.

Later, in 2018, Canada acknowledged that the real and greater crime was the existence of racial segregation in Nova Scotia. It did this by placing Ms. Desmond’s image on our current $10 bill – but this did not occur until 71 years after her act of civil disobedience.  The consensus of climate scientists is that we do not have that kind of time with climate change.

Viola Desmond broke the law.   It may not have been government policy, but segregation in Canada was legal. 

Slavery was legal.

The genocide of indigenous peoples, the theft of their lands, the brutality of residential schools were all within the law.

The Holocaust was legal.  The people who sent Anne Frank to Auschwitz were obeying the law.  The people who hid her were breaking it. 

I am not asking for special treatment.  We are not asking to be exempt from consequences.  The question is rather, do the lessons of Nuremberg still stand, or are we back to where we started? 

I would like to close by acknowledging that we are here on the traditional unceded territory of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.  They have much to teach us about respect for the earth, and our need to live in harmony with the ecosphere as a matter of survival.  I believe it is time for us to listen to them.


Will Offley is a member of the Vancouver EcoSocialist Group