A Yellowknife physician is lending her voice in support of Dr Tim Takaro, a climate change scientist facing possible jail time for his protest of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
Dr Takaro will be sentenced on Wednesday after pleading guilty to criminal contempt for violating a court-ordered injunction against blocking the pipeline’s expansion.
The court will decide if he will spend the next month in prison or under house arrest.
Yellowknife resident Dr Courtney Howard, a prominent voice on the link between health and climate change, led an effort to draft an open letter that opposes jailing Takaro over his protest.
“I don’t see how it serves the public to spend public dollars to put him in jail, when he could be doing work that serves the public,” Dr Howard said.
Takaro stands out among his peers for his expertise in the field of climate science, she added.
“There really are not a lot of toxicologists with experience around petrochemicals and their health impacts as well as climate change,” Howard said. “He’s the guy in Canada.”
Howard put out a call last week for people willing to support him, and worked with the group to draft an open letter.
“I know the international community that knows him,” Howard said, “and so I felt that something I could contribute was to help make it really clear that Dr Takaro is a really well-respected physician-scientist, both within Canada and internationally, so that it would be impossible to marginalize him from that perspective.”
Howard said the signatories themselves are further proof of the impact of Takaro’s contributions.
“If you happen to take a couple of minutes to Google some of the names that are on that paper, it’s a ‘who’s who’ of heavyweights in the space internationally,” Howard said.
“Every single one of those people is a global leader, or most of them. That is a lot of my heroes who signed that letter.”
Health impacts ‘epically under-studied’
Last November, Takaro engaged in a “tree-sit,” occupying a tree at a Trans Mountain worksite. He felt his previous efforts to publicize the project’s potential for harm, including an official report and formal request for an independent review, were not adequately considered.
“The health impacts of fossil-fuel extraction and transport in Canada have been epically under-studied,” Howard said.
“There’s a difference between absence of evidence and evidence of absence and, with regards to the health impacts of fossil-fuel extraction and transport in Canada, we are very much working in a situation of absence of evidence.
“Canadians need to know that, and know that the first step needs to be proper health impact assessments – and that’s what Tim has been fighting for.”
The Crown prosecutor in the case has argued that as Takaro broke a BC Supreme Court injunction, a jail sentence is required to deter others from doing the same.
The prosecutor, Ellen Leno, said publicity around Takaro’s actions – Facebook videos, large signs and appearances on news outlets like the CBC – was an aggravating factor, North Shore News reported.
Howard, though, hopes the letter demonstrates that members of the global health community believe the issues Takaro highlights are important and under-addressed, and that they understand why Takaro made the choice to move from reports and studies to what they say was non-violent direct action.
Howard cited the work of Indigenous land defenders, who have gone to jail for their efforts to protest the pipeline.
“I want to emphasize that I honour their work and their contribution and their courage,” she said.
“Ideally, we would have a system where, when there are just calls for the protection of spaces that are critical to health, those calls would be honoured.”