Such righteous zeal in bashing the Strathcona 64
By Des Kennedy
It's absolutely marvelous how politicians can summon up a passion for Fundamental Principles when it suits their purpose. Bullying the parole board and diddling a neighborhood pub referendum, influence peddling and kickbacks, the shouts and vulgar joustings of legislature debate - are all discreetly forgotten. And, wonderfully transformed, there stands before us that paragon of righteousness and truth - the Principled Politician.
We've had a lovely example of just such as metamorphosis in the case of 64 citizens arrested in Strathcona Park last winter. Three of them have already been tried in provincial court, found guilty on one count of mischief and granted a conditional discharge.
In the meantime, the provincial government released the Larkin report and banned all further mining and logging in the park. The report was blunt in its description of government deception in the park. "To put it mildly," the report stated, "the Parks agency in particular and the government in general has (sic) long since lost credibility in their dealings with the public on the issues of Strathcona Park."
The government, to its credit, has now backed away from its former position, and banned what it should not have authorized in the first place. But what of the 64 citizens, many of them grandparents, whose civil disobedience was necessary to bring about this change? Well, here's where the question of Principle blooms like a flower above the rubble of government deceit. Attorney General Bud Smith - somewhat laughably miscast as the personification of high principal unsullied by the push and shove of backroom politics - refuses to even discuss the possibility of staying the charges. The law has been broken. Justice must be done.
But, as Justice Potter Stewart once put it, "Fairness is what justice really is," and Victoria's insistence upon prosecuting the Strathcona 64 is neither fair nor just. Last year, another mining company with claims in the park, Casamiro Mines, moved crews and equipment into the Della Falls area without a resource use permit. The company blatantly ignored a cease-and-desist order from the Park's branch. And yet, no charges were laid.
In its controversial exploration program, Cream Silver Mines violated its permit conditions by discharging contaminants into a nearby stream feeding the Campbell River domestic water supply. No actions were taken there either. When Parks Minister Stephen Rogers was caught holding shares in Westmin Mines and other companies which stood to benefit from his changes to Strathcona, we heard no cry for justice - indeed, Premier Vander Zalm dismissed the flagrant conflict of interest as "an itty bitty thing."
Every transgression, it seems, in this sad and stupid history is "an itty bitty thing" - except for the 64 citizens who had the temerity to stand against the government. Old Joseph Addison must have gotten it wrong when he wrote that "Justice discards party, friendship, kindred, and is always therefore represented as blind."
Blind, perhaps, but not necessarily penniless. Police raids in the park are rumored to have cost in the $100,000 range. Innumerable hours of preparation and three days of court time have already been absorbed by the case. Eight more court days are scheduled over the next month, and the trials will undoubtedly drag on well beyond that.
Consider the presiding judge is paid about $7,000 a month; the prosecutor some $4,000, and the sheriff, clerk and recorder about $2,000 a month each. Add courthouse, clerical and administrative costs, and you've got a very expensive and time-consuming exercise in an already-over-loaded court system.
The decision to prosecute is unparalleled. Normally, this sort of charge results in a warning letter or a diversion to the John Howard Society. Indeed, a decision to bring a prosecution for this sort of offence would typically result in a reprimand to the Crown prosecutor. For it flies in the face of a vigorous policy emanating from the Attorney General's office to pursue only "quality charges" with a strong likelihood of conviction. The monies being thus squandered in the courts could serve far better purposes in cleaning up some of the industrial mess in Strathcona Park. On a base political level, the court cases will again drag out the government's dirty laundry and thus soil its recent public relations success over saving Strathcona.
Aristotle long ago described law as "reason free from passion." In its stubborn insistence upon prosecuting the peaceful defenders of Strathcona Park, Victoria reveals itself - wearing the Emperor's clothes of High Principle - as a creature of passion more than reason.
is a freelance writer and vice-president of the Friends of Strathcona