Sheriffs turned up at the downtown Vancouver offices of an environment group on Tuesday to seek about $14,000 in unpaid court costs on behalf of energy giant Enbridge Inc., but within hours, the company backed off.
Other environmental groups rallied around Stand.earth, formerly known as ForestEthics, on Tuesday with statements on social media and phone calls offering help. Enbridge did not explain the swift turnaround.
Stand.earth campaign director Karen Mahon said there probably wasn't enough value in the second-hand furniture, including items from her house, and other goods in the three-room office suite to pay that bill.
Ms. Mahon said two sheriffs photographed the offices and had her sign an undertaking of responsibility for any items removed by the time they returned with a truck and movers to take everything.
"They were very stern, but they were professional," she said.
The dispute emerged from a lawsuit filed by the environmental group against the National Energy Board alleging a lack of public consultation over the Line 9 pipeline in Ontario and Quebec. In 2014, Enbridge was awarded court costs.
Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline has shipped oil from east to west in Ontario, but has had its flow reversed so it ships oil from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal.
On a point of principle, Stand.earth declined to pay the costs, said Ms. Mahon.
That decision came back to haunt the group on Tuesday as it was presented with a writ of seizure and sale to produce a total of $14,559.19, representing the original $12,939.58 court levy with additional interest accumulated over the years.
According to the documents, "This Writ of Seizure and Sale was issued at the request of, and inquiries may be directed to Enbridge Pipelines Inc.," the document said.
But within hours on Tuesday, Enbridge indicating it was backing off.
"We have asked the sheriffs not to seize any assets from Stand.earth and will not be pursuing the matter further," company spokesman Jesse Semko said in a statement.
But he added he could not elaborate. "This is a legal matter and Enbridge does not publicly discuss legal matters." David Sutherland, a lawyer for Stand.earth, said it was clear to him what had transpired.
"Enbridge pursuing costs of a purely procedural matter of $14,000 is not about recovering the money. It's about deterring Stand.earth in its advocacy," Mr. Sutherland said in an interview.
Ms. Mahon agreed, noting that the $14,000 was tiny compared with the multibillion-dollar revenue of the company.
"The only thing that makes sense is that they have decided it's time to send a warning shot over the bow to environmental groups, and First Nations opposing these infrastructure projects and let them know they're going to play hardball."
She said she was gratified from support from other environmental groups and lawyers, who offered to help.
"Enbridge today proved itself to be a bully determined to intimidate and silence its opponents," Tim Pearson, communications director for the Sierra Club BC, said in a statement. "Sierra Club BC stands with Stand.earth."