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Crown Counsel Policy Manual: Civil Disobedience

By Hempology | November 1, 2002

Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Attorney General, Criminal Justice Branch

TITLE: POLICYDATE: 12-20-91FILE NO: 47680-00NO: CIV 1
SUBJECT: Civil DisobedienceREFERENCE: BMC 6-8-90; REV, PMC 8-8-90

On occasion those involved in public demonstration come into conflict with the law and obstruct or interfere
with the rights of uthers. The use of criminal sanctions in these situations is generally not appropriate.
Charges may be considered where the circumstances described in #7 below exist.

When Crown Counsel are consulted, they should encourage the police to exercise discretion in selecting
an appropraite response for each factual situation while ensuring that the general public is not
unduly inconvenienced.

The following guidelines apply to civil disobediance situations:

  1. Where the civil disobedience affects only a selected group of individuals, those individuals should
    generally be encouraged to apply for a civil injunction to stop the disobediance;

  2. In the event the civil disobedience continues after an injunction is granted the party obtaining the injunction
    should be encouraged to proceed with civil contempt proceedings in the court in which the injunction was

  3. The Attorney General may intervene in the contempt proceedings where the contempt becomes criminal in
    nature. This usually will occur only where the conduct of disobeying the court orders tends to bring
    the administration of justice into public ridicule or scorn or the disobedience otherwise interferes
    with the proper administration of justice.

  4. In appropriate cases, where a large sector of the public is affected by the demonstrators, and the
    demonstration affects public property such as highways or waterways, the Attorney General, acting for the
    Ministry affected, may bring an application for an injunction to cease the disobedience. Any subsequent
    contempt proceedings would be pursued by the Attorney General.

  5. Civil contempt proceedings are more expedient and more effective than lengthy criminal proceedings
    under section 127 of the Criminal Code. As a result prosecutions under section 127 for the
    disobeying of an injunction are discouraged.

  6. In cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the injunctive relief would either not
    be granted or that it would be ineffective, consideration should be given to charges under provincial
    or federal statutes rather than the Criminal Code. Where a provincial or federal statute or
    regulation applies to the facts of the case, it is preferred that action be taken under such legislation
    or regulation (e.g., section 8 and 17 of the Highways Act).

  7. Charges under the Criminal Code against demonstrators may be appropriate in the following situations:

    1. Conduct involving violence resulting in physical harm, which is not insignificant, or consisting of
      assaults with a reasonable apprehension of violence or physical injury.

    2. Conduct causing property damage, which is not insignificant, or where there is property damage and there
      is a reasonable apprehension of further serious property damage.

    3. Conduct involving an assault on a peace officer, which is not insignificant.

    4. Conduct where the public interest clearly requires a prosecution.

    When the conduct described in (a), (b), (c) or (d) exists and criminal charges result, other Criminal
    charges such as mischief (s. 430(1)(c) or (d)) or obstruction of a highway (s.423(1)(g)) may also
    be appropriate.

  8. Crown Counsel should be aware that police have the power of arrest under provincial statutes to prevent
    the continuation of an offence (Moore v. The Queen (1978) 43 CCC (2d) 83). There also exists under
    the Criminal Code and under the common law the power to arrest for breach of the peace without the
    neccessity of criminal charges as a consequence.

  9. All proposed prosecutions in this category, or civil injunctions that come to the attention of Crown Counsel,
    should be immediately brought to the attention of Regional Crown Counsel who, in turn, will consule with the
    Executive Crown Counsel (telephone 356-0135) about the appropriate action to be taken pursuant to these

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