Indigenous man standing in front of a court, raising his fist in a salute

Tiny House Warriors found guilty of all charges related to altercations at TMX worksite

Editor’s note: While Kamloops is more than 350 km away by air, the themes running through this story (Civil disobedience, Indigenous rights, Individual responsibility and the law, Indigenous vs Canadian law, Canada’s failure to curb her emissions, Corporate influence, Colonialism, The future of Canada’s energy sector, Climate change etc.) are of vital importance to the residents of Cortes, Quadra and all British Columbia.

By Aaron Hemens, IndigiNews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Members of the Tiny House Warriors who have been found guilty of all of the criminal charges against them for their actions at a Trans Mountain worksite say they did not commit any crimes under Secwépemc law.

Provincial court Judge Lorianna Bennett released her verdict in the case on May 30 at the Kamloops Law Courts — condemning Isha Jules, Mayuk (Nicole) Manuel, Tricia Charlie and Sami Nasr on various counts.

The offences occurred during a series of confrontations between the Tiny House Warriors and Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) security at a worksite in Secwepemcúl’ecw in 2021.

Meanwhile, land defenders clashed with sheriffs in the courtroom Thursday and were admonished for refusing to show respect for the colonial institution, including not standing for the judge.

After a heated exchange between the defendants, their supporters and courtroom sheriffs, the day concluded with Jules being handcuffed.

Manuel and Jules later shared a statement on social media that said upholding Secwépemc law is criminalized in Canada.

“In our Secwépemc law we are not guilty of any crimes against anyone,” the statement said. “In Secwépemc law we have a duty to stand up and defend our bodies and Mother Earth from colonial settler destruction.”

The Tiny House Warriors are the latest land defenders to receive criminal charges in “British Columbia’s” courtrooms for opposing — at times forcefully — the pipeline’s development on unceded lands.

In November, Secwépemc Matriarch Miranda Dick and her father Hereditary Chief Saw-ses served jailtime after being found guilty on charges stemming from their own opposition of TMX in Secwepemcúl’ecw. In court, land defenders have argued they were acting according to Secwépemc law.

Meanwhile, Tsleil-Waututh member Will George also served jailtime after blocking a TMX site on his territory in the Lower Mainland.

Charges include mischief, assault

In the Tiny House Warriors case, Justice Bennett found each of the four land defenders guilty on two mischief charges, causing a public disturbance and loitering.

Jules was found guilty of the two assault charges against him, while Nasr was found guilty of assault with a weapon.

Nasr, along with Charlie, were found guilty of breaking and entering. The two, alongside Manuel, were found guilty of resisting or obstructing an arrest, while Manuel was also found guilty of breaching her release order that prohibited her from obstructing a Trans Mountain worksite or being within five metres of any Trans Mountain employee.

“I’m satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Nicole Manuel and Isha Jules instigated the events of the morning, and that Tricia Charlie and Sami Nasr were active participants, who deliberately promoted and supported the actions of Isha Junes and Nicole Manuel,” Bennett said in her decision.

The Tiny House Warriors are a Secwépemc-led resistance group in opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion’s (TMX) operation on their unceded lands.

In 2018, the group set up a number of mobile tiny homes along Murtle Lake Road in “Blue River” in Secwepemcúl’ecw to disrupt both the pipeline project’s development, as well as a nearby temporary camp for its workers.

Bennett came to the guilty verdict after analyzing evidence from a five-day trial in February. In addition to bodycam footage from the project’s security members, the evidence consisted of testimonies from six Crown witnesses: four former TMX security personnel, and two RCMP officers who responded to aggressive — and sometimes violent — confrontations between members of the Tiny House Warriors and TMX security during the morning of Sept. 15, 2021 at the project site near the Tiny House village.

Crown counsel Anthony Varesi argued that each individual’s identity had been established beyond a reasonable doubt through video footage and evidence from the witnesses.

The defence team, however, argued that the Crown did not prove the identities of the alleged beyond a reasonable doubt due to a number of reasons, such as face masks concealing identities and Tiny House Warriors dressing in similar styles.

Ultimately, Bennett said that she was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the identities of the four had been made out through the different experiences and recognitions by the various witnesses.

In their February submissions, defence had argued that there were credibility and reliability issues with the evidence provided by two key witnesses, former TMX security personnel Stuart Morse and Bryon Hodgkin. The defence counsel collectively had taken issue with what they said were inconsistencies by Morse and Hodgkins around identifying the accused, as well as recalling how certain events unfolded that day.

Manuel’s lawyer, Joe Killoran, had argued during the trial that Morse could not distinguish Mayuk from her twin sister, Kanahus, during the events on Sept. 15, and that he only became aware of who he was actually dealing with after arrests were made.

Bennett, however, said that Morse’s testimony and evidence showed that while he did initially show confusion surrounding the identities of the sisters, he was able to distinguish the two as the day unfolded.

He made identifications through the subtle differences in the clothes that they were wearing, Bennett said, and noted instances where Morse made specific comments addressed at each while facing them in his bodycam footage.

Judge has ‘no concern’ with reliability of TMX witness

In the case of Hodgkin’s credibility and reliability, defence had taken issue when he incorrectly said that Nasr had cut the lock to gain entrance to a TMX’s surveillance trailer.

Bennett, however, said that Hodgkin’s mannerisms and choice of words when he made the error during his testimony did not leave her with the impression that he intentionally misled the court.

“When considering his evidence as a whole, I’m left with no concern with his credibility or reliability,” said Bennett.

Defence counsel also had concerns around Morse and Hodgkin’s actions during the offence date, saying that their conduct only further escalated events.

“I want to make it clear that I accept defence counsel’s argument that some of the words and conduct by Mr. Morse that day were uncalled for; were argumentative; and were insensitive,” said Bennett.

“Having watched the videos, I have no trouble concluding that at times, Mr. Morse overstepped and engaged in rhetoric that was neither helpful or conducive to the peaceful resolution.” However, she said that she accepted Morse’s evidence that he reacted and behaved in a “non-textbook fashion” due to his frustration with the actions of the land defenders, as well as the RCMP’s delayed response to the three-hour incident.

“I accept his evidence that despite his engaged banter, he did not intend physical harm to any protestors,” she said.

She also said that she did not accept the suggestion from Killoran that Morse implied choking people into unconsciousness when Morse was heard uttering the words “time to start choking people out” in bodycam footage.

“To reach such a conclusion, in my view, could only result from a tunnel-vision approach to the evidence, one that fails to take into consideration the context and circumstances in which those words were said,” Bennett noted.

She also said that Morse did not engage in negative banter with Tiny House Warriors members until he himself was “subjected to extremely rude and violent rhetoric.”

“Even if Mr. Morse had remained completely silent and passive, which in itself would be an unreasonable expectation given his hired role as security contractor, I am unable to conclude from the evidence that the events of that day would have unfolded any differently,” she said.

Similarly, defence said that Hodgkin’s conduct that day had furthered escalated events, calling him the aggressor in his physical confrontation with Jules and noting how he threw a rock back at the land defenders. They also argued that his version of the events during his scuffle with Jules is not depicted in the videos.

“While that’s true, there’s nothing else grounding in the evidence to suggest that Hodgkin was the aggressor,” said Bennett.

Rather, she said that it was Jules who was the aggressor, saying that his “rage during this altercation is consistent with the aggressive behaviour he demonstrated throughout the morning of Sept. 15.”

As for the rock-throwing back at the Tiny House Warriors, Bennett said that Hodgkin’s reaction was also non-textbook or conducive to de-escalating events.

“He was, however, like Mr. Morse, hired as a security contractor,” she said. “At that point in the day, the accused had already thrown a barrage of rocks of all shapes and sizes towards the TMX workers and property.”

She noted that by the time Hodgkin threw a rock back at the land defenders, they had already made their way into the TMX compound and caused damage to property, also engaging in scuffles that left TMX security personnel Glenn Vogstad injured.

“Aside from the one rock he threw, Mr. Hodgkin otherwise stood more or less passively on his cell phone, while the accused carried on,” said Bennett.

‘It’s a symbol of genocide’

As Bennett was reading her analysis of the evidence, Charlie — who was sitting at the back of the room — took issue with a male courtroom sheriff standing near her and observing her.

“Why are you looking at me? You shouldn’t be. I’m trying to pay attention, I’m trying to listen and you’re [expletive] distracting me,” Charlie said to the sheriff.

Bennett adjourned the proceedings for the morning as the disruption escalated, as members of the Tiny House Warriors and their supporters engaged in heated discussions with five courtroom sheriffs.

Supporters asked the male and female sheriffs to switch places to make Charlie feel more comfortable, noting that it was a trauma response related to the militarized state of “Canada” including the MMIWG2S+ crisis.

“We don’t listen to you. You don’t give orders to us,” one sheriff said to the group.

“We’re trying to work with you guys. We have a job to do,” said another.

At some point during the exchange, sheriffs brought up the issue of some supporters refusing to stand before the court and Bennett throughout the trial.

Defence lawyer Killoran interjected, saying that those members in the public gallery are not trying to be personally disrespectful.

“I think people need to understand, we stand for that,” he said while gesturing towards the United Kingdom coat of arms hanging in the courtroom.

“It makes me sick every day I do it. It’s a symbol of genocide. I do it because I have to do it for my clients. But it can’t be reasonably be demanded of people to bow and stand for the symbol of their genocide.”

When court resumed, Killoran explained to Bennett that the issue of standing forces some Indigenous peoples to “lie to their conscience by standing for the symbol of a genocide perpetuated against them.”

“The people who make the decision not to offer respect to the symbol of parties that committed genocide against them, are not doing so to try to personally insult anybody,” he said.

“They’re simply doing so to maintain their own dignity and to honour and respect the people who have been systemically subjected, oppressed, and murdered under that very symbol.”

In her response, Bennett said that “this is my courtroom,” and that she’s “very much attuned to cultural issues and highly sensitive about the issues and concerns by the people in the courtroom today.”

She said that if she feels that someone in the gallery is interfering with the administration of justice — such as arguing with courtroom sheriffs or “failing to comply with standard courtroom etiquette” by not standing — that she has no concern with removing a person from the courtroom.

“I would like to not have to do that. The accused certainly need to be here to hear my decision and to hear what I have to say,” she said.

After Bennett’s decision concluded, court was adjourned.

The Tiny House Warriors and supporters quickly left the courtroom, with Jules and Manuel chanting phrases and seemingly mocking the system as they walked by courtroom sheriffs en route to the exit.

At some point, a group of sheriffs swarmed Jules and put him in handcuffs for his comments. It wasn’t clear or audible what exactly was said. According to Mayuk, Jules was picked up by RCMP and held in a cell for five hours, and is scheduled to appear in court in August.

“As we were walking out, Isha Jules said several jokes and really just trying to keep our morale high,” Mayuk explained in a video afterwards.

“Isha did nothing illegal, he had lawyers witnessing … they wanted us to walk down with our heads down low, for convicting us, but we’re heroes, we’re not going to walk out of the court with our heads down low.”

Meanwhile, the Tiny House Warriors made their way outside the building and began singing the Women’s Warrior Song. They held up signs saying “We are not guilty,” and “We are Heroes.”

A sentencing date has not yet been set.

Top image credit: Members of the Tiny House Warriors sing the Women’s Warrior Song outside of Kamloops Law Courts in Secwepemcúl’ecw on May 30, after being found guilty of all of the criminal charges against them for their actions at a Trans Mountain worksite in 2021. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *