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Maritime law and civil disobedience on water By Michael Soltynski A Vancouver Lawyer with Bernard LLP - Subscriber Access Only

By BCShippingNews 31 October 2015

Civil disobedience is not new to British Columbia although it is often newsworthy. It has played a role in many significant ways throughout the history of Canada, and has been focussed on a range of policies, social conditions and commercial activities. The concept of civil disobedience has been recognized by judges, but is not protected by law. In fact, by its nature, civil disobedience includes a breach of law that may give rise to penalties or criminal charges.

In British Columbia, perhaps more than any other province, acts of civil disobedience have taken place on water. Such action has ranged from single boats to large flotillas, and slight inconveniences to blockades.

Canadian maritime law generally does not differentiate between action taken as civil disobedience and any other action. Rather, it creates offences for the contravention of directions or prohibitions in specific situations, often related to safe navigation and marine operations.

It is not the purpose of this article to list every possible offence that could arise as part of civil disobedience, but to highlight some elements of Canadian maritime law that might apply in some circumstances; and criminal offences relating to vessels under the Criminal Code are not dealt with here.

Safe navigation is a fundamental part of maritime law and many Canadian statutes and regulations deal with navigation and ship safety. In some cases, this may be very general: for example, the Vessel Operation Regulations include the broad requirement that any person who operates a vessel must avoid endangering the safety of anyone involved in any activity in any waters.