FHS professor emeritus and climate change activist Tim Takaro is surrounded by supporters on the day of his sentencing by the BC Supreme Court. He pled guilty to violating a court injunction that prevents obstruction of / interference with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project while exercising his right to engage in civil disobedience. Photo: Protect the Planet

FHS professor emeritus engages in civil disobedience to advocate for climate-change related public health

June 24, 2022

By: John O'Neil, Kate Tairyan, and Sharon Mah

Faculty of Health Sciences professor emeritus, colleague and friend Dr. Tim Takaro was sentenced in the BC Supreme Court on June 15 to 30 days in jail for violating a 2018 court injunction prohibiting obstruction of or interference with the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX) expansion project. Takaro had no prior criminal record.

Takaro, along with five other members of a multifaith prayer group (“the Brunette 6”) began peacefully protesting at the TMX project site located at the base of Burnaby mountain in August 2020, stating that their willingness to incur jail time reflected their “deeply held conviction that we need to act immediately to curtail fossil fuel expansion to prevent catastrophic climate change.” All six members of the group were sentenced for their actions, with Takaro receiving the longest sentence, intended to deter others from ignoring court orders.

Takaro and the prayer group members are not the only non-violent demonstrators to see consequences for violating an injunction related to the TMX project: William George, Burrard Inlet protector and member of Tsleil Waututh Nation, was also recently sentenced to 28 days of jail time. The pipeline project terminates on the traditional and unceded territory of the Tsleil Waututh, who have sustainably stewarded the land for thousands of years.

In his statement to the Court, Takaro said: “[t]he modern Hippocratic oath requires that I protect the health of my patients AND the public AND to inform or warn about impending health threats. This is an essential expectation in my professional role.”

Takaro’s comment references his long career as a physician, epidemiologist, and toxicologist, and reflects his lifelong commitment to the principles of social justice and public health ethics. His research focuses on investigating the links between human environmental exposures and disease, and determining preventative public health solutions to such risks. He has additionally examined water quality in BC communities and the interaction of cumulative exposures related to resource extraction and climate change on human health. Takaro also led two major reports documenting the impacts of pipelines and associated activities on human health. (One of the reports is available here.) This expertise resulted in Takaro being granted intervenor status during the federal TMX project review process, where he outlined the toxic health effects of a diluted bitumen spill which include childhood leukemia risks, mental health effects, and seasonal heat-related toxic releases.

Although his work and evidence has been widely validated in peer-reviewed scientific literature, it was ignored during the federal project review, leading Takaro and other protestors, land defenders and water protectors to initiate peaceful civil resistance in August 2020 in an effort to buy time for a reconsideration of the project’s feasibility. After being arrested in late November 2021, Takaro pled guilty, expressing remorse for breaking the law. He stated to the Court that Canada’s fossil energy policies “are exactly the opposite of what is required to reduce the numbers of people who will die from climate change,” observing that those losses have already started to occur with more than 600 deaths in British Columbia directly linked to the record-breaking ‘heat dome’ and flooding events in 2021.

As professors in the Faculty of Health Sciences, we thank Takaro for continuing the work of advocating for the inclusion of evidence-based science in current climate change dialogues, and for collaborating with the many people who feel compelled to speak out to protect people locally, nationally, and globally from the largest threat to planetary health in known history.