Public health doctor, pipeline protester, and renowned tree-sitter Tim Takaro doesn’t deserve four weeks in prison for violating a court injunction against blocking construction of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, climate communicator James Boothroyd writes in an op ed for the Toronto Star.
Takaro’s potential sentencing this week, “longer than those of most of the other 250 protesters charged under the 2018 injunction, reflects Takaro’s leading role in opposition to the new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Boothroyd writes. “It also reflects the absurd predicament Canada now finds itself in, as we begin to take halting steps toward decarbonization without altering the fundamentals of an economy dependent on oil and gas. The absurdity is all the more evident when one looks at the nature of Takaro and his crime.”
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Boothroyd recounts Takaro’s history as an expert in the public health impacts of climate change who first became concerned about Trans Mountain when he led preparation of two assessments for submission to the then National Energy Board, beginning in 2014. One addressed climate impacts; the other focused on the potential health impacts of a diluted bitumen spill, including the risk of childhood leukemia
“The review refused to consider Takaro’s first report, as the Harper government excluded climate impacts from its terms of reference, and the final report did not address his toxicity work,” Boothroyd recounts. Then the provincial government ignored a call from the Health Officer’s Council of British Columbia for an independent review of the pipeline’s cumulative health impacts.
By the summer of 2020, with court challenges exhausted and media attention diverted to the pandemic, “Takaro was exasperated with the system,” Boothroyd writes. “Most people would have gone on vacation; Takaro used a sabbatical to climb a tall tree that would soon be cut down for the pipeline. An experienced climber, he rigged a platform 30 metres up with a banner that could be seen from cars on Highway 1.”
He later explained to a judge that “I had to choose between the importance of the court-ordered injunction versus the importance of preserving the planet and the public’s health.”
The tree-sit attracted supporters and media attention, and Takaro and his backers kept at it through the cold, wet winters of 2020 and 2021 until he was arrested this past February by armed RCMP officers, dressed in fatigues.
“Critics will say he deserves to be punished for breaking the law and blocking a project of national interest,” Boothroyd writes. “Expert observers, however, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer, have questioned the business case for TMX and its ballooning cost—now pegged at C$21 billion, up from the Trudeau government’s original quote of $4.2 billion. And given the effects of the latest windstorms in Ontario and last year’s flooding and heat dome in B.C.—the latter took the lives of over 600 British Columbians, the provincial coroner reported this week—one might ask whose interests this project is serving.”