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Extinction Rebellion spawns another splinter group planning to block streets

Different name, same face. The Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion has spawned another protest sub-brand that threatens to disrupt traffic Monday for an anti-shale gas march from Vancouver city hall to the CBC studios, via the Cambie Bridge.
save-old-growth-highway-protests-2022
Protesters with Save Old Growth take part in a traffic disruption in January 2022.

Different name, same face.

The Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion has spawned another protest sub-brand that threatens to disrupt traffic Monday for an anti-shale gas march from Vancouver city hall to the CBC studios, via the Cambie Bridge.

The central coordinator of Stop Fracking Around (SFA) is Muhammad Zain Ul-Haq, the Save Old Growth (SOG) co-founder. The 21-year-old Pakistani Simon Fraser University student was detained by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in June for allegedly violating terms of his student visa. Haq was freed after a closed-door Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) hearing on June 23, but neither IRB nor CBSA will comment on the outcome.

SOG has failed to convince the NDP government to stop old growth logging. SFA pledges to disrupt infrastructure and tourism sites until Vancouver city council bans residential use of shale gas by 2025. SFA/SOG member Sophie Papp was arrested Aug. 10 for pouring molasses on the Gastown Steam Clock.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge sentenced Haq in February to 14 days in jail for contempt of court after blocking Trans Mountain Pipeline construction. The judge’s verdict said he was also national action and strategy coordinator for Extinction Rebellion. The court database shows Haq is scheduled for trials on mischief charges in November, January and February.

SOG’s website says the group receives most of its funding for recruitment, training, capacity building and education from the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), a California-based charity whose board includes an heiress to the Getty oil fortune. The New York Times reported SOG has received US$170,000 in grants from CEF, which was co-founded by Trevor Neilson, chairman of natural gas-from-trash and agricultural waste marketer WasteFuel.

Haq did not respond for comment.

Haq is one of five people listed on the Jan. 27 federal incorporation for Eco-Mobilization Canada. Another is Ian Shigeaki Weber, 26, who was sentenced to 14 days in jail on July 20 for mischief and violating an undertaking to not block traffic.

At that hearing, Crown lawyer Ellen Leno said there had been 43 arrests of 31 individuals from Save Old Growth in the Vancouver area and 96 arrests of 71 individuals from Extinction Rebellion protests.

Vancouver Provincial Court Judge James Sutherland agreed to the joint sentencing proposal from Leno and Weber’s lawyer, Sarah Grewal, which also included 18 months probation and an order to not intentionally block roadways.

Weber had been arrested for blocking traffic on Broadway near Environment Minister George Heyman’s office last September, near Vancouver International Airport and the north end of the Burrard Bridge last October, and the Upper Levels Highway near the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal at the end of January.

Leno told the court that Weber continued coordinate SOG’s April roadblocks.

“There was a minor collision caused because of one of them,” Leno told the court. “There was a woman who was in labour who police had to escort over the Lions Gate

Bridge after they cleared a blockade, and frustrated motorists did attempt to physically pull protesters off the roadway before police arrived.”

Three vehicles seized by Vancouver Police from a June 13 protest at the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge were registered to Weber and Eco-Mobilization Canada.

Sutherland noted the YVR protest was near Canada’s second-busiest airport and a COVID-19 testing site.

“The interruption of traffic flow to the airport was not only one that affected citizens in terms of their mobility and travel but also placed at risk emergency services as well,” he said.

The court heard that 26-year-old, Richmond-born Weber has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from UBC and has worked as a dog walker and for Uber Eats, but is otherwise unemployed. Weber did not express remorse in a statement he read to the court. Instead, he admitted he was scared to go to jail, but even more fearful of the perceived lack of action by governments toward climate change.

“Somebody like Mr. Weber is passionate enough, committed enough and bright enough to be creative enough, I'm sure, to pursue his passions, but in a way that conforms with the rule of law,” Sutherland said.

Ultimately, the judge said, “it’s the method that’s the rub.”

“Without the rule of law, random anarchy results,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland waived the $100-per-offence victim fine surcharge because he said Weber had devoted more time to environmental pursuits than earning an income.

Weber was released after nine days in jail. SOG resumed its roadblock campaign on July 29.

A month earlier, on June 29, SOG announced it stopped roadblocks. That was also the day Ian Wilton Schortinghuis, 30, pleaded guilty to three counts of mischief and two counts of breach of undertaking. He had been in jail since his June 13 arrest at the Massey Tunnel. Judge Laura Bakan freed him June 30 on a conditional discharge and 24 months probation due to his remorse and desire to pursue training to be an auto mechanic.

“He fits the profile of some persons that I find, unfortunately, are used by organizations as foot soldiers while those behind organizing stay safe and sound,” Bakan said.