A Provincial Court judge in Vancouver banned a telecommunications installer on Thursday from organizing or participating in protest roadblocks for the next two years.
Brent Eichler, 56, pleaded guilty to breaching his probation at an anti-natural gas protest last Aug. 15 on Vancouver’s Cambie Street Bridge.
Eichler had received a conditional discharge and 200 hours of community work service in October 2021 after pleading guilty to mischief for his role in a February 2021 Extinction Rebellion protest that closed the Hornby and Smithe intersection for several hours. His probation stipulated that he must not block or impede any traffic for two years.
Eichler, who gained media attention for hunger-striking with Save Old Growth in 2022, formed the Stop Fracking Around splinter group last summer and organized a protest march from Vancouver city hall to the CBC studios via the Cambie Bridge.
Crown prosecutor Ellen Leno said that Eichler was under the “simple condition to not block or impede the traffic,” but he marched on the bridge and was arrested on a warrant in September.
“His moral culpability is at the highest end, it was planned and deliberate and he was an organizer. He was breaching a court order, and he has a history of breaching court orders, as evidenced by the criminal contempt conviction,” said Leno, referring to the 25-hour community work service sentence for breaching the Trans Mountain Pipeline protest injunction in 2018.
Eichler’s defence lawyer Ben Isitt told Judge James Sutherland that Eichler followed the march on the Cambie Bridge in a vehicle so that he could assist elderly or physically infirm protesters. The group paused mid-span for about 20 minutes for speeches. Eichler got out of the vehicle with the intent to de-escalate a confrontation between a protester and a reporter.
“That's where the breach occurred and he regrets having done it,” Isitt said. “He was strongly inclined to try this allegation, but, ultimately, when he learned of the Crown's position on sentence, he was able to enter a guilty plea.”
Leno said the bridge is critical infrastructure needed for police, fire and ambulance vehicles when “minutes matter.” She said the specific march delayed a police vehicle that was responding to an unrelated emergency.
Eichler’s written statement to the court said he did not intend to break the law, but apologized to police and the courts, and for disrupting the public.
After the joint Crown-defence submission, Sutherland sentenced Eichler to four days in jail, but gave him credit for three days served and waived custody for the fourth. Terms of his two-year probation include 40 hours community work service, a $100 victim surcharge fine and orders that he not intentionally block or impede traffic, cyclists or pedestrians on any B.C. road or highway and that he must not plan or organize any event that disrupts or interferes with the regular use of public or private roads, highways or bridges.
“Ultimately, his motives were altruistic, in that he wasn't gaining personally, as much as he was attempting to make a change collectively for society,” Sutherland said. “As misguided as those methods may have been, when they're viewed in the context of the collective march.”
Earlier, Leno told the court that in 2021, police arrested 96 people and Crown charged 71 individuals for illegally blocking roadways during Extinction Rebellion protests. Eighteen of those charged had more than one court file. In 2022, Save Old Growth organized six roadblocks in January, eight in April and four in June. Save Old Growth briefly paused actions at the end of last June, but returned to block traffic on the Lions Gate Bridge in October. Forty-eight Save Old Growth protesters were arrested and 34 charged, with 16 of them having multiple files.
In a separate hearing on Wednesday, Judge Reginald Harris blamed his heavy schedule of trials for delaying the sentencing of Save Old Growth leader Muhammad Zain Ul Haq.
Harris did give Haq permission to vary his bail so that he could move to from Vancouver to Victoria and live with fellow protester Sophia Papp. The couple married on April 29.
Haq is facing deportation to his native Pakistan and a one-year exclusion from Canada for violating the terms of his visa to study at Simon Fraser University.
In January 2022, Haq and four others incorporated Eco-Mobilization Canada, a federal not-for-profit company behind Save Old Growth. Haq had boasted last August in a New York Times story that Save Old Growth received US$170,000 in grants from the California-based Climate Emergency Fund.