The Tiny House Warriors Village in “Blue River” in Secwepemcúl’ecw, pictured in 2022. Adjacent to the village was a temporary camp for Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) workers. Photo by Aaron HemensAaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As the Tiny House Warriors trial came to a close, a Crown prosecutor acknowledged that one of his key witnesses — a former Trans Mountain security worker — was an “argumentative witness” at times with “inappropriate” conduct in the courtroom.

The recognition by lawyer Anthony Varesi was made on the trial’s final day on Feb. 27, when he said in his closing remarks that the comments and actions in the courtroom by former private security officer Stuart Morse were unnecessary. 

“The Crown concedes that certainly some of Stu Morse’s comments and actions were inappropriate. They should not have been said,” Varesi said.

“At times, he was an argumentative witness.”

Varesi also noted that Bryon Hodgkin — another key witness who was one of the security leads for Trans Mountain alongside Morse when they clashed with members of the Tiny House Warriors in 2021 — should not have thrown a rock back at the group following an physical altercation between the two parties.

“Although certainly — as we’ve seen from the video — that the security personnel were subjected to intermittent barrage of rocks on that date,” he added.

Varesi’s comments about the witnesses were made after their reliability and credibility was called into question by all four lawyers of the defence counsel, who asked the court to acquit several of the charges being faced by Tiny House Warriors Mayuk Nicole Manuel, Isha Jules, Sami Nasr and Tricia Charlie. 

However, when Justice Lorianna Bennett asked Crown counsel what his response was to the defence counsel’s collective submissions and concerns with the evidence presented by Morse and Hodgkin, Varesi said that he didn’t have any issues with their credibility.

“We have the video evidence, we have the evidence of what was heard that morning,” said Varesi. “I’ve outlined in my submissions and the timeline the evidence that shows each of these accused committing their respective offences.”

The trial for the four Tiny House Warriors took place over five days in Kamloops Provincial Court between Feb. 20 to 27. 

‘He came to this court and he lied’

The Tiny House Warriors are a Secwépemc-led resistance group in opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion’s (TMX) development on their unceded lands. In 2018, the group set up a number of mobile tiny homes along Murtle Lake Road in “Blue River” to disrupt the pipeline project and a nearby temporary camp for its workers.

Throughout the week, the courtroom watched video evidence mostly from Morse’s bodycam footage that documented aggressive — and sometimes violent — confrontations between members of the Tiny House Warriors and TMX security personnel during the morning of Sept. 15, 2021. 

Manuel, Jules, Nasr and Charlie were all arrested that day, and face a number of different charges including mischief, assault causing bodily harm and willfully resisting a public officer. 

Several Tiny House Warriors members are arrested outside of the gate to a temporary camp for Trans Mountain workers on Sept. 15, 2021. Source: @Weasel_Woman/twitter.com

In many of the videos, Morse can be heard making remarks to and about the Tiny House Warriors, which included comments such as, “time to start choking people out” and to “take [expletive] out” prior to a violent altercation; and saying that one land defender looks like “she needs a diet.”

“I’ve said a lot worse, I can guarantee that,” Morse said when he was cross-examined by Manuel’s lawyer, Joe Killoran, on Feb. 21. Killoran argued that Morse’s conduct that day only escalated the events.

Morse admitted that he regrets that his comment mocking a woman’s weight was recorded, and that he doesn’t believe that there is anything derogatory about saying “take [expletive] out.” He also said that “choking people out” meant “pushing people back.”

However, in his final submissions on Feb. 27, Killoran took issue with this explanation.

“(Morse) lied. When confronted with, ‘Time to start choking people out,’ he said — preposterously — choke people out means just push them back,” the lawyer said.

“He came to this court and he lied — a lie that is insulting to the intelligence of everybody in this room. We all know ‘Time to choke some people out’ doesn’t mean it’s time to push them back. It means time to choke people into unconsciousness.

“He sneered, he laughed, he appeared proud of some of his behaviour. And I don’t doubt his testimony that he says far worse.”

‘Wholly unreliable’

Killoran also called Morse’s evidence “worthless” in regards to identifying Manuel that day. Morse testified earlier in the trial that the person he initially identified as Kanahus at the front of the gate that morning actually turned out to be her twin sister Mayuk, who also goes by Nicole. In his notes written after the events, he had Kanahus’s name written — and crossed out — with Nicole written above.

He also pointed out how Morse testified that he “never put a hand or foot on anyone” during the arrests. But after a video was played showing Morse stepping on Jules’s leg as he’s being arrested, Morse said that he forgot that he did that.

“It would be extremely unsafe to rely on any of (Morse’s evidence),” Killoran said.

As a result, he also said that Hodgkin lied in his testimony as well. When cross-examining Hodgkin on whether he knew if he was dealing with Mayuk or Kanahus during the morning of the events, Hodgkin said that it was Morse who informed him that he was interacting with Kanahus, which turned out to be incorrect.

Hodgkin testified that Morse told him before his first conversation with Mayuk at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2021, that he was interacting with her. But in his written statement read to the court, Hodgkin said that he “later learned” it was Mayuk after his conversation with her, not before.

“Bryon Hodgkin didn’t know who he was dealing with, and he came here and he said he did. He lied directly to this court,” said Killoran.

Kyle Komarynsky, Jules’s lawyer, said in his submissions that Hodgkin’s recounted narrative of his violent altercation with Jules was “pure fabrication.”

Hodgkin initially testified that Jules “charged me, attempted to kick me in the groin” and that he “round-house punched me three or four times.” In video footage played before the court, however, a person alleged to be Jules is seen surrounded by security personnel, punching Hodgkin in the head once, knocking him to the ground and pushing a TMX security guard away before fleeing the property. 

“Mr. Hodgkin only resiles from his narrative when he’s confronted with the video evidence,” Komarynsky said.

Similarly, when asked if he was sure if the person he believed to be Nasr was responsible for cutting the lock and gaining entry to TMX’s surveillance trailer, Hodgkin told Nasr’s lawyer, Frances Mahon, that he was “sure of it.” 

But when video evidence played before the court captured that it was an unidentified land defender cutting the lock — and not the person he believed to be Nasr — Hodgkin changed his answer.

“In defence’s respectful submission, Mr. Hodgkin is [not] credible in his testimony. But even at its most charitable view, he is wholly unreliable as a witness,” said Komarynsky.

A fix-a-date to determine the day for when Bennett will give her sentencing decisions for the accused has been set for March 21.

By Aaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 08, 2024 at 15:08

This item reprinted with permission from   Indigi News   British Columbia

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