Claiming that the criminal justice system fails to effectively prohibit protest and civil disobedience, corporate lawyers embrace the pervasive use of injunctions and contempt of court charges in struggles over resource extraction in British Columbia, dubbing this approach the “new normal.” Yet even a cursory review of protest policing in Canada reveals that state intervention in resistance movements is alive and well and that Indigenous peoples and allied social movements are made subject to repression, surveillance, and criminalization through the mechanism of injunctions and contempt, among other legal tools. Based on my direct experience with injunctions and contempt in BC as an activist legal support organizer and a settler ally, this article argues that the reliance on injunctions by extractive industries embroils the courts and police in struggles over public and/or collectively held lands and resources that are nonetheless constructed by the law as private disputes, largely insulated from the reach of constitutionally-derived Aboriginal rights. After tracing the long history of BC’s “injunction habit,” I examine the judicial and policy practices that make the “new normal” claim possible—and show how it is ultimately not accurate. As crucial tools in the legal arsenal of settler-colonial states, injunctions and the subsequent use of contempt charges carve out a distinctly colonial space within Canadian law for the criminalization of Indigenous resistance, facilitating access to resources and lands and easing the operation of extractive capitalism.
Beyond Contempt: Injunctions, Land Defense, and the Criminalization of Indigenous Resistance
Irina Ceric is currently based in Vancouver, BC, where she teaches in the Criminology Department of Kwantlen Polytechnic University. A longtime activist, legal support organizer, and radical lawyer, she researches and writes about the intersections between law and social movements.
Irina Ceric; Beyond Contempt: Injunctions, Land Defense, and the Criminalization of Indigenous Resistance. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2020; 119 (2): 353–369. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-8177795
Download citation file: