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HomeBusinessJudge sends U.S.-funded, Pakistani protest leader to seven days jail 

Judge sends U.S.-funded, Pakistani protest leader to seven days jail 

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Bob Mackin

The Pakistani student who organized and participated in illegal blockades on Lower Mainland roads, bridges and highways was led out of a Vancouver courtroom by a sheriff July 5 to begin a seven-day jail sentence.

Muhammad Zain Ul-Haq, a Pakistani national outside the North Fraser Pretrial Centre (Save Old Growth)

Provincial Court Judge Reginald Harris also ordered climate change protester Muhammad Zain Ul Haq, 22, to serve 30 days house arrest (with allowance to leave for three hours every Saturday morning), 31 days under 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and perform 75 hours of community work service. He must not block or impede pedestrians or traffic at any B.C. road, highway or public space during a 12-month period of probation. 

Haq showed disdain for the rule of law, publicly encouraged others to do the same and celebrated his arrests, the judge said during the 40-minute hearing.

“His conduct speaks to an arrogance of his ideals at the expense of the democratic process, and pro-social dialogue,” Harris said.

Haq pleaded guilty in January to five charges of mischief for his role in the Extinction Rebellion climate change blockades in 2021 in Vancouver and Richmond. He also pleaded guilty last November to one charge of breaching a release order for the August 2022 Stop Fracking Around protest that blocked the Cambie Bridge. 

Haq, who also co-founded and led Save Old Growth, separately faces deportation to Pakistan and a one-year ban on returning to Canada for violating the terms of his visa to study at Simon Fraser University.

Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno had sought 90 days in jail and 18 months probation. Haq’s lead defence lawyer Ben Isitt argued for a conditional discharge. Harris had reserved his decision in March and the sentencing decision was delayed by more than a month due to his trial schedule. 

Provincial Court Judge Reginald Harris (Langara/YouTube)

Harris read the circumstances of each of the charges between March and October 2021, in which Haq and others were arrested for blocking traffic on the Cambie, Granville and Burrard bridges, and intersections in downtown Vancouver and near Vancouver International Airport. 

To gain release from police custody, Haq promised each time that that he would not return to the area where he was arrested. However, he returned to the Cambie Bridge last August for the Stop Fracking Around march, which led to another arrest and the breach of undertaking charge.

Harris highlighted two occasions when the protests blocked routes normally used by emergency vehicles to access St. Paul’s Hospital, including the social media-promoted event on July 24, 2021 at the north end of the Burrard Bridge. 

“Concerned about the impact that closing the bridge would have on those trying to access St Paul’s Hospital, police contacted Mr. Haq and informed him that the group would not be allowed to access a bridge, cautioning persons would be arrested,” Harris said.

Harris said the sentence should send a message to others that committing multiple criminal offences on a “platform of change” will also lead to criminal consequences. 

“Traffic on major roadways was impacted, access to an international airport was denied, emergency traffic was impacted and significant police resources were consumed,” Harris said. “As for Mr. Haq’s moral culpability, the evidence is clear: he knowingly and deliberately broke the law, and he did so fully aware of the consequences and the impact that his actions would have on innocent parties. Further, that his placement of his wishes and desires, no matter how laudable, do not reduce his culpability. Simply. the rule of law must be obeyed, unless legal justification permits otherwise.”

Harris mentioned that Haq spent nine days in North Fraser Pretrial Centre for contempt of court in February 2022 after blocking a Trans Mountain Pipeline construction site in violation of a judge’s order. That judgment indicated Haq was the national action and strategy coordinator for Extinction Rebellion at the time of the offence.

Ian Schortinghuis on June 13 at the Massey Tunnel (Save Old Growth/Twitter)

But Harris cited a pre-sentencing report for deciding that Haq had been rehabilitated and was not a risk to reoffend. The author of that report said Haq had taken responsibility for his actions and recognized “that radical activism is not productive on many levels.” That report and letters filed in support of Haq led Harris to believe Haq is “an intelligent, motivated young person who is a staunch protector of the environment, who can, provided he does so through legitimate means, (be) a catalyst for positive change.”

In March, Harris heard that should Haq succeed in overturning his deportation on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, he has a job offer from environmentalist Tzeporah Berman at the charity Stand.earth. In late May, Harris varied Haq’s bail conditions to allow him to move to Victoria and live with Sophia Papp, a fellow protester that he married in April.

Haq and four others incorporated Eco-Mobilization Canada, a federal not-for-profit behind the Extinction Rebellion splinter group Save Old Growth in January 2022. Haq had boasted in August 2022 in a New York Times story that Save Old Growth received US$170,000 in grants from the California-based Climate Emergency Fund (CEF). Haq is now listed on the non-profit’s website as a member of the advisory board.

CEF’s 2022 annual report said it granted US$5.2 million of the US$6.07 million it raised to back “disruptive non-violent activism” around the world. 

While activities in B.C. have subsided due to prosecution of mischief charges, CEF U.K. beneficiary Just Stop Oil has run a campaign of roadblocks, art vandalism and invasions of the field of play at sporting events. Three protesters were arrested for disrupting play at the Wimbledon tennis championships on Wednesday.

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