Anglican deacon pleads guilty to contempt of court after participating in pipeline protest

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The Rev. Rob Crosby-Shearer kneels with an Indigenous man who smudges as he prays, shortly before Crosby-Shearer’s arrest April 28, 2018. “He’s praying in his way, and I’m praying in my way.” Photo: Kimiko Karpoff

The Rev. Rob Crosby-Shearer has been arrested three times in his life during protests. But the most recent time was different.

“I was involved in a fair bit of non-violent, direct action stuff over the years, but not so much in the last decade; since I became a parent,” says Crosby-Shearer, a deacon in the Anglican diocese of British Columbia.

On April 28, Crosby-Shearer’s eight-year-old twins watched their father being arrested by the RCMP. He was one of seven people arrested in a protest at the gates of a Kinder Morgan worksite in Burnaby, B.C., for violating a court injunction that imposes a five-metre exclusion zone around the site.

“Usually it’s bad people who’ve done bad things who get arrested, but sometimes we need to do this to make a stand when we feel that the law is on the wrong side of what needs to happen,” Crosby-Shearer and his wife, Meagan, an Anglican priest, had explained to their twins. “They understood that and they were supportive of that.”

The event was in opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and was organized in response to a call from members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, who asked religious leaders to stand with them against the project.

At the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver June 12, Crosby-Shearer pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court for violating the injunction and was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine.

Crosby-Shearer says he chose to plead guilty rather than face the “physical and economic toll” of taking the case to trial. If found guilty at trial, Crosby-Shearer says, the fine would increase to between $3,000 and $5,000.

During his court appearance June 12, three others who had been arrested also pleaded guilty. All were allowed to read statements before a judge.

Crosby-Shearer says that the opportunity to read a statement contributed to his decision to plead guilty. In his statement, Crosby-Shearer says that he “had no intention to depreciate the authority of this Court” and notes that he had the “full support and blessing” of his bishop, Bishop Logan McMenamie, of the diocese of British Columbia, to “be involved in action for reconciliation with First Nations.”

In his statement, Crosby-Shearer quoted National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, who has stated that the expansion of the pipeline violates the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). He also noted the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) call to churches, including the Anglican church, to support UNDRIP.

“My lord, I did what I did that day in response to multiple calls from the Tsleil-Waututh leaders, spiritual leaders in my own Christian faith community and to follow the recommendation of the TRC,” his statement reads. “I felt that this action was important as a tiny statement of hoped-for reconciliation between the Church of which I am a part—who collaborated with the Crown to run destructive Indian Residential Schools—and the First Peoples of these lands.”

During daily morning prayers with the Emmaus community, a neo-monastic community in Victoria, of which he is a part, Crosby-Shearer says he felt led to respond if there were to ever be a direct call to action from First Nations to Christian clergy or leaders. When Tsleil-Waututh nation member Will George made such a call to all leaders of faith, Crosby-Shearer decided to participate.

The April 28 event was attended by Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, interfaith groups and members of 10 different Christian denominations, the CBC reported Bishop MacDonald and members of the ecumenical organization KAIROS were among those who attended. Crosby-Shearer’s wife and children and members of their church community were also present.

Crosby-Shearer says that for the most part, the RCMP were “very respectful.” RCMP officers read the 12-page injunction to the crowd of protestors, then allowed 10 minutes for anyone who wanted to leave, Crosby-Shearer says, before moving in to make arrests.

Crosby-Shearer, wearing his clerical collar and clutching a prayer book, asked if he could pray before being arrested. As he knelt down, an Indigenous man near him asked, “Can I pray with you?”

The man knelt down in front of Crosby-Shearer and began smudging as Crosby-Shearer prayed.
“He’s praying in his way, and I’m praying in my way,” says Crosby-Shearer. “That was quite a powerful moment and symbol for me.”

Crosby-Shearer read out psalms as he was led away. Around him, he says, others sang together: “Courage, my friend/You do not walk alone/We will walk with you/And sing your spirit home.”

For Crosby-Shearer, the protest was a step towards reconciliation.

“The Indigenous community leaders who spoke at the beginning of the protest that day said, ‘We’ve been putting our lives on the line for hundreds of years, so we wanted to call on you folks to put your bodies on the line today.’ I think that really did speak to me,” he says. Members of the Tsleil-Waututh nation put traditional warrior markings on the cheeks of those risking arrest. “There was quite a bit of beauty and ritual to it,” Crosby-Shearer adds.

It was “a real honour to be able to, in a tiny way, build some of those relationships that have been broken by colonialism,” he says. Since the protest, he says, “there have now been a number of invitations from Indigenous communities who previously felt a bit of apprehension, particularly—and understandably—from Christian clergy” to attend ceremonies and events. After Kinder Morgan halted spending on the pipeline in April, the federal government announced a plan to purchase the project  for $4.5 billion.

As the future of the pipeline continues to unfold, Crosby-Shearer says he believes the “primary posture” for Christians and Anglicans is to listen. “I think that means listening to everybody, from Indigenous communities to our own sisters and brothers who depend on oil for their income, to listening to what the environmental impacts could be.” He hopes the Anglican response can be one “rooted in prayer,” based ultimately on “listening to God, and what God [is] calling us to do and be in this time.”

“We need to listen and keep watch and continue to act in faith around these things. If that takes the form of non-violent civil disobedience, because the systems are that broken that they can’t hear certain voices, then I think we need to continue to do that.”

Since his arrest, Crosby-Shearer says he has received around $500 of unsolicited support from Anglicans and others across the country to help pay his fine.

Crosby-Shearer is a deacon-in-transition and is set to be ordained June 29. He is the co-prior of Emmaus Community and deacon at The Abbey Church, a church plant that worships at St. Matthias Church, in Victoria.

Editor’s note: The fifth paragraph has been edited to clarify that the call for protest came from members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, not the Nation itself.

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

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