Perry Ridge logging protester gets conditional sentence
One of two protesters arrested in March for blocking a logging road at Perry Ridge in the Slocan Valley received a 14 day conditional sentence in BC Supreme Court Tuesday.
Dennis Zarelli, 37, will serve 14 days house arrest at his Winlaw home immediately and be on probation for 18 months for violating a BC Supreme Court injunction on March 4, 2014. He will be allowed to leave his home for four hours a week to shop and take care of personal matters.
“You have taken the law into your own hands,” Mr. Justice Mark McEwan told Zarelli in sentencing. “You must understand, you are a member of a collective that makes us Canadians. Laws, once passed, should be obeyed.”
The injunction, granted to Galena Contracting on March 3, prohibits anyone from interfering with the logging company’s road building work on Perry Ridge.
The Nakusp company has a contract with BC Timber Sales to log about 5,000 cubic meters of timber from an eight km logging road on Perry Ridge Road.
But Zarelli and Sinixt spokesperson Marilyn James blocked the contractor when crews arrived March 4 to go to work.
“I am under orders from my creator to protect this area,” Zarelli told the contractor, as seen in a March 4 video shown in Court Tuesday.
Both Zarelli and James were arrested and taken to court the same day and appeared in front of Justice McEwan. Amid a raucous courtroom of supporters, they refused to deal with the issue of not returning to the protest site, which would allow Justice McEwan to release them.
Instead, both demanded McEwan recuse himself from the case, along with other issues, that McEwan called “nonsense” in court Tuesday.
“It was pretty disrespectful,” commented the judge.
“Your breach in the courtroom is almost as bad as the one outside.”
Later that day the pair agreed not to return to the site and were released from jail.
Nonetheless, Justice McEwan was sympathetic to Zarelli’s recent personal trauma. Zarelli lost his common law spouse in an untimely death on the day of the arrest, leaving him a widower with a five year old son to raise. The family dog died soon thereafter.
Zarelli, who has taken a vow of poverty, works with the homeless and is a supporter of the Sinixt people who adopted him four years ago, court heard.
“This has been a difficult haul for Mr. Zarelli,” his lawyer Don White told the Judge. “He gives back to the community in many ways.”
Zarelli apologized to the judge for his behavior in court on the day of the arrest. “I have had two and a half months to think about this,” Zarelli told Justice McEwan. “I totally understand I violated a court order.”
At one point the judge canvassed the idea of granting a suspended sentence, similar to a case of civil contempt before him some years ago.
But Zarelli had admitted that he was guilty of criminal contempt—which changed the rules—in that his public defiance of the court process was “significant”, as Justice McEwan put it.
“The concept of public defiance is an affront to the administration of justice,” the judge said.
In the end, the judge agreed to the joint submission put forward by Crown Counsel Debra Drissell and Don White requesting a 14 day conditional sentence and probation.
Zarelli has to abide by several conditions including keeping the peace and be of good behavior and report to his probation officer.
Marilyn James is scheduled to appear in court May 26 to fix a date for her hearing.