Skip to main content

The long arm of the law has caught up once again with British Columbia's raging great-granny.

Adding to a string of previous prison terms that has given her the status of legend among many environmental activists, 78-year-old Betty Krawczyk was sentenced to 10 months behind bars yesterday for trying to stop an Olympics-related road-building project.

As sheriffs moved to bustle the white-haired activist out of the courtroom, supporters erupted in a chorus of boos and angry shouts of "shame."

Later, a group of them forced a halt to B.C. Supreme Court proceedings for several hours by occupying an area in front of the court registry.

There has been a hard edge to protests over Ms. Krawczyk's fate since the death from poor health of Harriet Nahanee, 71, one month after the frail native elder was sent to jail for 14 days in connection with the same campaign to stop highway construction on the Eagleridge Bluffs near West Vancouver.

Rose Henry, a close friend of Ms. Nahanee, was among scores of supporters who showed up at a courthouse rally for Ms. Krawczyk, already a veteran of more than 2½ years in prison for numerous environmental protests in defiance of court injunctions.

"This is Canada's shame that we are letting another grandmother go to jail," Ms. Henry said. "It's a sad reflection on us to treat our elders this way. I just pray that we do not have the same outcome for Betty as we had for Harriet."

But Ms. Krawczyk seemed in excellent health before surrendering to sheriffs for punishment, raising her right fist and trumpeting to supporters in a strong voice: "I am a citizen. I am citizen."

Sending the grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of one to jail for blocking bulldozers, however, has raised the question of whether such sentences are appropriate for peaceful civil disobedience.

Ms. Krawczyk was convicted last month of criminal contempt of court for defying an injunction barring protesters from the site.

"It's my opinion that this has really brought the court into disrepute and dishonour," said Adriane Carr, deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada.

"Betty Krawczyk was not standing on the line in contempt of court. She was in contempt of a government that makes decisions to allow the destruction of an ecosystem at Eagleridge Bluffs," Ms. Carr said.

"She was standing there for her grandchildren and for future generations."

Offences such as Ms. Krawczyk's should be handled under the Criminal Code as mischief, rather than evoking the often severe penalties of contempt of court, the long-time Green Party activist contended.

Attorney-General Wally Oppal agreed that contempt-of-court cases are hard for judges "because they often involve ordinary people concerned about valid issues . . . but no one is above the law, no matter what the circumstances."

Ms. Krawczyk was arrested three times during a concerted, unsuccessful protest last summer, aimed at stopping a new section of the Sea to Sky Highway to the Olympic ski slopes of Whistler from passing through scenic, tree-covered bluffs overlooking the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal.

Ms. Nahanee and Ms. Krawczyk were the only demonstrators to be handed jail time. Others were fined sums as large as $5,000.

Supreme Court judge Madam Justice Brenda Brown said Ms. Nahanee had shown no remorse for her actions, while Ms. Krawczyk's breach of the court order was "open, continuous and flagrant."

Handing down the protester's 10-month sentence during a brief hearing yesterday, Judge Brown told her that the court had warned her repeatedly to obey the law.

Earlier, Ms. Krawczyk, by now a familiar figure on the front lines of anti-logging and other environmental fights, said that the decision to risk jail is never easy.

"It's very difficult . . . Every time, I have to do my preparation. I take two or three days to calm myself to deal with the aftermath of what I know I will have to go through," she said.

"Do I want to do this? Am I ready to go through it all again? But I know it has to be done, because the environment has become the most important issue in the entire world.

She has told her family that if something happens to her in prison, it will be because of what she has chosen to do. "I'm not going to be a martyr or a victim."

No one seemed to take Ms. Krawczyk's imprisonment harder than Rona Reimer, a 10-year-old schoolgirl who, with her father's permission, took the day off to attend court.

"She's been like a grandmother to me," Rona said, her blue eyes crying in the rain. "I mean, she's 78 years old. It's terrible what they've done."

When someone handed her a picture of Ms. Krawczyk, Rona stood by herself, looking at it and sobbing deeply.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct