Canada: Breach Of Court Order Leads To Jail Time

Last Updated: June 21 2019
Article by Cynthia R. C. Sefton

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal from an order of the province’s Supreme Court, in which that court sentenced a number of individuals to 14 days imprisonment each. The individuals who appealed pleaded guilty to violating an injunction order which restrained protestors from obstructing access to Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC (Trans Mountain) work sites in Burnaby.

The four individuals who appealed their jail terms were among 196 individuals convicted of criminal contempt of court for the manner of their protests against the pipeline project.

The proceedings started in March 2018 when Trans Mountain filed a claim in which it was alleged that various people were illegally blocking access to its work sites. The company also sought an injunction which prohibited protestors from interfering with the construction of the pipeline. The court issued an injunction which prohibited anyone with notice of the order from physically obstructing, impeding or preventing access to the sites or work areas. Shortly after the injunction was granted, numerous people were arrested by the RCMP for allegedly defying the order. It should be noted that the injunction did not prevent peaceful, lawful and safe protest of the building of the pipeline.

The Attorney General of British Columbia intervened in Trans Mountain’s motion for civil contempt and assumed conduct of the proceedings. Those arrested were advised by the Crown counsel that they would be criminally prosecuted for the common law offence of criminal contempt of court.

In the months that followed, further work sites were added to the injunction order. As well, the Crown filed documents setting out the Crown’s approach to sentencing and outlining various categories of penalties that would be sought, which included varying days of jail terms.

Supreme Court Reasons for Sentence

The sentencing court accepted the range of sentences put forward by the Crown. The judge emphasized that the rule of law, which includes court orders, is a Canadian constitutional value and, further, that the court has the power to uphold the rule of law by the enforcement of orders and ensuring respect for the court’s processes. The court said that specific deterrence of the four individuals before the court was likely only a minor consideration. However, general deterrence of others continued to be a relevant factor. The court stated, “other members of the general public who may be tempted to pick and choose the court orders that they will obey, either in this situation, or in others, must be deterred from flouting orders of the court.” The court did not accept the argument that jail terms would be inappropriate.

The Appeal

On appeal, the individuals argued that they were not given adequate notice of the Crown’s position that there ought to be escalating punishment, including jail time. Primarily they argued that the sentencing court overemphasized the goal of general deterrence to others.

Appellate courts do not lightly interfere with sentencing courts’ decisions. There has to be a “…marked departure from the principle that sentences must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.”

The appeal court found there is no general requirement that the Crown or the police give would-be offenders notice of the Crown’s sentencing position in advance of the commission of an offence, and further that there was no such requirement for the offence of criminal contempt.

As well, there was evidence that the individuals were in fact informed prior to their arrests that if they continued their illegal conduct, they could be arrested and charged and could be sentenced to jail time. Finally, knowledge of the court’s injunction order (which these individuals all had) was enough to establish criminal contempt of court, if the Crown proves beyond a reasonable doubt, that “…the accused defied or disobeyed a court order in a public way… with intent, knowledge or recklessness as to the fact that the public disobedience will tend to depreciate the authority of the court.”

In arguing that the sentencing court’s imposition of jail time for first time offenders overly emphasized general deterrence to others, the individuals said that the sentences failed to consider whether less restrictive punishment would have been sufficient, especially because the individuals had expressed remorse and the protests had stopped at the time of sentencing.

The appeal court noted that contempt of court was the only remaining common law offence in Canada. The principal sentencing goals were “denunciation and deterrence.” The appeal court quoted a 1952 decision: “One law broken and the breach thereof is but an invitation to ignore further laws and this, if continued, can only result in the breakdown of the freedom under the law which we so greatly prize.”


The underlying conduct supporting the injunction and the criminal contempt convictions and sentencing were undoubtedly a long and arduous process for all involved. The sentencing court pointed out that the individuals behaved peacefully at the time of their arrest, held the belief that the pipeline had to be stopped, and that each was a valuable member of their community and society.

However, this was not about beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, or about the fact that fortunately no one was injured during the protests. It was not even about the undoubted delays and costs which may have been caused by the protests.

Rather the decision was about respect for orders of the court and the rule of law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions