Breaking: Award-winning poet Rita Wong jailed for pipeline protest

Poet Rita Wong jailed for 28 days. (Photo: Diane Lake, Facebook)

Updated: August 17, 2019, 6:05 PM

2nd Update: August 20, 2019, 5:30 PM

Sentenced to 28 days in jail

Legal Defense Fund started with GoFund Me


(Update: A Legal Defence Fund has been organize by Hiromi Lee ands raised $16, 400 outs of a $17,00 goal. Here is the link for those who want to contribute. )


An award-winning poet and professor at Emily Carr University was sentenced  to 28 days in jail yesterday, (August 16) for her role in the pipeline protest in Burnaby last year.

The author of three books, Wong has won the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop Emerging Writers Award and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her work investigates social issues and ecology.

The sentence  handed down  by Justice Kenneth Affleck of B.C. Supreme Court yesterday ( August 16) was criticized by supporters as the harshest imposed on a protester.

Wong issued the following  statement.


I’m grateful to be here alive today with all of you on sacred, unceded Coast Salish territories, the homelands of the Musqsueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh peoples. 

On 24 August 2018, while BC was in a state of emergency because of wildfires caused by climate change —breaking records for the second year in a row; putting lives at risk, health at risk, and displacing thousands of people— I sang, prayed, and sat in ceremony for about half an hour in front of the Trans Mountain pipeline project’s Westridge Marine Terminal.

I did this because we’re in a climate emergency, and since the Federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect us despite full knowledge of the emergency, it became necessary to act. We are in imminent peril if we consider the rate of change we are currently experiencing from a geological perspective – we are losing species at an alarming rate and facing mass extinction due to the climate crisis that humans have caused. This is the irreparable harm I sought to prevent, which the court, the Crown, and corporations also have a responsibility to prevent. 

RCMP arrest Wong at the site of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Burnaby. (Photo- CTV News)

Everyone has the responsibility to respond to this crisis. We are on the global equivalent of the Titanic, and this industrialized ship needs to change direction. We also need to build life boats, healthy places that can support resilience in the future, such as the sacred Salish Sea.

I acted with respect for the rule of law which includes the rule of natural law and the rule of Indigenous law and the rule of international law. Under the rule of law:

  • I have a responsibility to my ancestors and the ancestors of this land to protect the lands and waters that give us life with each breath, each bite of food, each sip of water. 
  • I have a responsibility to reciprocate to the salmon who have given their life to feed mine, to reciprocate to the trees that produce and gift us the fresh air from their leaves through the perpetual song of photosynthesis.
  • I have a responsibility to give back to the great Pacific Ocean, the Coast Salish Sea, Stalew (the Fraser River), and the many water bodies on which human life – and other lives – depend. 
  • I have a responsibility to hold our politicians accountable when they persistently breach their international legal obligations to protect us. They should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not increasing them in ways that put the very existence of life at risk.

By breaching the injunction, I had no intention of reducing respect for our courts. I do intend to ask the court to respect Coast Salish laws that uphold our responsibilities to care for the land and waters that make life, liberty and peace possible for everyone. I sincerely ask the court to take our reciprocal relationship with the land and water into consideration because we are on Coast Salish lands, where everyone is a Coast Salish citizen.

I’m one of over 200 citizens of conscience who were arrested because, unlike our federal and provincial governments, we take the climate crisis seriously. We take the need to protect society seriously. We did what we could to maintain respect for our justice system:

  • We cooperated with Indigenous spiritual guardians, non-governmental organizations and the police. 
  • We waited patiently for decades before determining —at a moment in history when time has almost run out to act —that orthodox ways of getting the federal government to act were doomed to fail.
  • The police were informed in advance and they appointed people to liaise and communicate with the NGOs in order to maintain order.

All of this is evidence of the rule of law working. 

I respect the court’s concern for the rule of law. I do appreciate that obeying court orders is part of the rule of law. There are more aspects of the rule of law that I would ask you to consider before sentencing me. 

Natural law and Indigenous law rely on mutual aid and cooperation, qualities that require maturity and a deep love for one’s community, recognizing that we are all equal. It is a rule of law that works primarily from a place of love and respect, not from fear of authority and punishment. 

This is the aspect of rule of law that has moved the hearts and spirits of the thousands of people who’ve shown up to care for the land and waters of this place. Such an understanding of rule of law, as coming from a place of love and courage more than fear, could strengthen our sense of democracy. It could make our commitment to reconciliation a sincere one. 

We can all learn from natural law and Coast Salish law that we have a reciprocal relationship with the land; and that we all have a responsibility to care for the land’s health, which is ultimately our health too. This was reinforced most recently for me by Tsleil-Waututh speakers at the Drums Not Drills gathering at the scene of my arrest, the Westridge Marine Terminal, on Aug 5 this year, which I helped to co-organize as part of the Mountain Protectors group.  

My ancestors teach me to act responsibly, to honour the water, the land and my relatives.  I feel their teachings in my blood & guts, my bones that carry their spirits within them, my heart as it closes & opens again & again with each beat.

The morning of my arrest we hung red dresses to honour the murdered and missing Indigenous women, the sisters who are made more vulnerable and victimized by the man camps that accompany pipeline expansion and massive resource extraction.  We sang the women warriors song, over and over again, for each woman who should have been there & wasn’t.

We sang for our grandparents, for people from all four direction of the earth.

Our ceremony that morning was an act of spiritual commitment, of prayer, of artistic expression, of freedom of expression, an act of desperation in the face of climate crisis, an act of allegiance with the earth’s natural laws, and a heartfelt attempt to prevent mass extinction of the human race. 

As I see it, one shows respect by speaking honestly, a view shared by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To speak the truth is not to show contempt, but to hold those in power accountable for failing to protect us and for instead knowingly choosing to inflict systemic harm & violence upon us and upon the land and waters that give us life. 

I pray that the urgency of the climate crisis and our responsibilities to be good relatives living on Coast Salish lands, under Coast Salish laws, will help to guide this justice system as it encounters land defenders. As land and water defenders, we do what we do for everyone’s sake.

Thank you.

Climate activists go to jail to stop Trans Mountain’s climate crime


4 thoughts on “Breaking: Award-winning poet Rita Wong jailed for pipeline protest”

  1. The voice and actions of Rita Wong is the voice and the actions of thousands who can’t make the same stand & sacrifice she made because of fear of losing our jobs or having criminal record. A disgusting fear tactic by our corrupt government that is bought and controlled by big polluting Oil

    A Climate Activist like Rita is worthy of all of us to be outraged at this JOKE justice system suppressing and intimidating peaceful protestors yet allowing a free pass to an industry that is and will destroy us all.

    We must financially support her in every way we can. I personally purchased 3 of her authored books yesterday. We love Rita Wong and we will never give up the stand against giant polluting industries.

    Please consider donating to her. Every dollar counts and every dollar adds up.

    1. Darryl R Taylor

      Donating money to defray the proce enacted for honesty snd courage is a good and just thing.

      At the same time, we have to watch out for “thumb’s up absolution” (referring to the illusion that people have of having done something significant by clicking “like ” for a picture or story on facebook pr pther online social media, andolving them of any requirement to do smything more active).

      If Rita and the other frontline defenders of the marine life systems of our coast and the stability of our plsnet’s biosphere manage to have all of their legal costs covered, we will have all lost by dint of not having them free and actively working at slowing or halting the ongoing damage that some miscall “progress”.

      If such attention or even vague awareness of the issue they were able to generate in the minds of s ome people is allowed to fade into comfortable background noise with the situation as it still stands, then their efforts will be wasted (or even made counter productive: the perception of something as having been “settled” is a dangerous one, our natural cognitive miserliness is always looking for ways to let us sink into familiar distractions so that we can pretend that having trouble finding a parking space, or a favourite show being taken out of production is somehow the worst fate in the world).

      We should donate what we can, when we can.

      It is wrong for someone to be pushed into the game of debt for standing up for all of us.

      (The nature of our debt based currency, and having to participate in the mechanism that powers the destruction is simply adding insult to injury)

      But we should also make a point of not being passive.

      The fight against TMX is continuous, as are the many other battles that most of us are also engaged in.

      Each day, we should do at least one small thing: adding a comment to an online debate to inform, provoke thought, or just take a bad argument away from someone who is a bit too smug about things (planting doubt with gentle and persistent questions is an art, and could sprout exactly what is needed at some future date).

      Engaging in polite discussion in public, even without debate, serves to keep the matter in the minds of those who might simply overhear it in a grocrry store, or waiting for a bus.

      A constant slow pressure, 30 or more actions each month, almost 400 in a year, plus participation in collective efforts.

      And one other thing that we all forget: giving ourselves permission to be able to think of something new, a solution or angle that maybe many others have thought of but that no one has actually tried to breath life into.

      False humility, needless silence, crippling timidity, these are among the worst arrogance that people can carry..

      Personally, I hope that I can afford a few dollars on payday, but aside from that I took the time to write this, and am about to go bother pipeline junkies with the question of when they figure they “will start reducing the flow instead of increasing it?”.

      Also:”With the way the market slump hit the prairie economies a couple years back, is it such a good idea to increase the dependance on it?”; and “Isn’t that oil going to be worth a lot more in 20-50 years? What are your kids going to do for work?”

      One of my favourites is: “Great! Please restrict the supply of gas to BC, people will learn to use transit and carpooling more. And if it does get really inconvenient, in a few years we’ll finish the site C dam and will control your water supply. Ain’t payback a b*tch?”

      Because we should also try to enjoy the fight if we can, to keep our hearts light.

      Light matters when fighting the darkness.

  2. Pingback: Land defender Rita Wong sentenced to 28 days in a Canadian jail – Peace Brigades International-Canada

  3. Pingback: Climate activists go to jail to stop TransMountain’s climate crime

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