Prominent lawyer questions Stelmach's interference in judicial system

Press release - October 5, 2009
Prominent Alberta lawyer Brian Beresh raised concerns today that Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach is unconstitutionally using his position as premier to exert political influence over the judicial system and undermine the right to fair trials for Greenpeace activists.

Following Greenpeace's occupation of Shell's upgrader site in Fort Saskatchewan last weekend, local and national media have reported that Stelmach, "slammed the protest Saturday, vowing to do what he can to … ensure that trespassers are punished to the full extent of the law" and that he will, "work with the solicitor general to send a message of his own." Stelmach's comments came two days before Alberta's Solicitor General issued similar remarks to the press.

At a news conference, Brian Beresh, senior defence lawyer at Beresh Cunningham, said Stelmach's comments hint at criminalizing peaceful environmentalism and raise issues about constitutional rights, political interference, free speech and the ability of activists to get fair trials in Alberta. Stelmach's comments are particularly disturbing as they come at a time when activists have been charged and their cases have yet to be heard by the court. Sixteen activists were charged in connection with the Shell action.

"I fail to see why the government has and wishes to treat my clients as criminals when they're simply relying on their constitutional rights through free speech and association in what is supposed to be a free and democratic society," said Brian Beresh, senior and prominent defence lawyer at Beresh Cunningham who has been practicing law for over 30 years. "Premier Stelmach's public suggestion that he will use the "force of the law to deal with these people" confirms his lack of knowledge of the limits of his authority and the clear rule that our system of justice cannot be interfered with or manipulated for political reasons."

In total, 37 activists have been arrested in the past three weeks after taking part in three peaceful Greenpeace actions to highlight the growing human rights and environmental crimes associated with the tar sands. In the wake of the Premier's comments, noted legal voices in Alberta criticized his remarks in the media. "You could well say this smacks of political interference," said Sanjiv Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta. "It also has the appearance of almost being a mouthpiece for the oil industry," said Tom Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association.

 "Most of us learned in Grade 5 that it is fundamental to our legal system that there must be a separation between the premier and the judicial processes," said Mike Hudema, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner. "I am proud that all the activists were willing to stand up to big oil and the toxic tar sands industry; I just wish the premier and our world leaders would do the same." 

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Photos will be available at gallery.greenpeace.ca

For more information, please contact:

Jessica Wilson, Greenpeace media and public relations officer, (778) 228-5404

Mike Hudema, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner (780) 504-5601