A Crown prosecutor asked a Provincial Court judge Feb. 9 to sentence the leader of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver and its spinoff Save Old Growth to 90 days in jail and revealed that he is facing deportation to his native Pakistan.
Muhammad Zain Ul Haq, 22, pleaded guilty to five charges of mischief for his role in illegal road and bridge blockades in 2021 and one for breaching a release order for an August 2022 protest on the Cambie Bridge.
Ellen Leno, who is also seeking 18 months probation for Haq, said he has been arrested 10 times since joining an Extinction Rebellion protest on the Burrard Bridge in 2019.
In January 2022, Haq helped incorporate Eco Mobilization Canada to raise money and founded Save Old Growth to stage climate change protests targeting vehicle drivers on major highways and bridges in Metro Vancouver and Victoria.
He was not arrested during the Save Old Growth protests he coordinated, but Haq did spend nine days in jail in a year ago for criminal contempt after violating the Trans Mountain Pipeline injunction in September 2021 and was jailed for nine days on an arrest warrant last September related to the Aug. 15 Cambie Bridge protest. Canada Border Services Agency kept Haq in custody last June for violating the terms of his student visa.
Leno said that there is a removal order in place for Haq and an exclusion order, barring him from returning to Canada for one year once he is removed. She emphasized in court that Haq had promised police each time he was released that he would not block vehicles or pedestrians and he was aware of the consequences before engaging in the Aug. 15 protest for another spinoff group, called Stop Fracking Around.
“[CBSA] would have removed him in the fall but for these proceedings, what’s kept him in the country is these proceedings,” Leno told Judge Reginald Harris. “And so, once this matter is concluded, if he is given a jail sentence, once that jail sentence is served, then they’ll be able to act on the order.”
Haq is seeking a conditional discharge, but his lead lawyer, former Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt, said that if the judge rejects the conditional discharge, then Haq would be willing to accept a 30-day house arrest and six months of curfew arrangement, plus probation and 150 hours work service.
Isitt said there is an element of “youthful exuberance” and that Haq’s offences differed from other Save Old Growth defendants, because he did not use devices like a ladder or chains.
Isitt replaced Haq’s previous lawyer, Abdul Abdulmalik, and was joined in court by Flora Yu of the Toronto firm Waddell Phillips. Partner John Kingman Phillips was on webconference.
Yu argued that jailing Haq would not be in the public interest, because it could lead to his deportation to authoritarian Pakistan.
Phillips said that his firm is working pro bono after being contacted by unnamed social justice activists. Isitt said that he is being paid through legal aid. Haq’s appearance in court was promoted by a Victoria publicist, Valerie Elliott of ID2 Communications. She said by email that she volunteered her services.
Haq had boasted last August in the New York Times that Save Old Growth received US$170,000 in grants from the California-based Climate Emergency Fund.
Leno showed Harris several videos featuring Haq at protests, instructing others on civil disobedience. One clip was shot outside the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam, where he served nine days of a 14-day criminal contempt sentence in February 2022. Haq boasted that he watched Seinfeld reruns in jail and suggested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau be tried and sentenced for crimes against humanity.
Leno also recited an August 2021 email from Assistant Chief David Boone of the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, rejecting Haq and Extinction Rebellion’s offer to briefly pause a planned roadblock on the Georgia Viaduct to accommodate emergency vehicle traffic.
Boone said it would be irresponsible for firefighters to approach a protest group while en route to an emergency, such as a cardiac arrest, overdose or structure fire.
“Lives can be affected or lost as a result of the delay in responding to critical incidents,” Boone wrote. “Know that by blocking a bridge, you force us to divert to an alternate route that results in a delay in response to the critical incidents we are called to. Please appreciate, these are members of our community in a time of need, and I encourage you and Extinction Rebellion Vancouver to reconsider your location of choice for these acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.”
The sentencing hearing was adjourned. The continuation date is to be determined.
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