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15 Feb 2022

Alexandria Herr, Floodlight

‘They criminalize us’: how felony charges are weaponized against pipeline protesters

Twenty states have passed laws that criminalize protesting on ‘critical infrastructure’ including pipelines. In Minnesota, at least 66 felony theft charges against Line 3 protesters remain open.

... Von Mering is one of nearly 900 protesters who were arrested in Minnesota for protesting against the pipeline’s construction, with the vast majority of arrests taking place during the summer of 2021, and one of dozens facing felony charges.

... [I]ts construction for years has stoked fierce protests and legal challenges, led by Indigenous activists in northern Minnesota who worried about potential impacts of oil spills and the pipeline’s threat to treaty rights to gather wild rice.

... It follows reporting by the Guardian that the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, which is building Line 3, reimbursed Minnesota’s police department $2.4m for time spent arresting protesters and on equipment including ballistic helmets. Experts say the reimbursement strategy for arrests is a new technique in both Minnesota and across the US, and there’s concern it can be replicated.

... “I’ve never seen felony theft and I’ve never seen felony assisted suicide used in environmental protests,” said Tara Houska, a tribal lawyer, activist and citizen of Couchiching First Nation, located along the border between Minnesota and Ontario. “Some of these charges are a pretty obvious overstep by prosecutors to try and punish people for engaging in demonstration.”

... According to documents obtained by the Center for Protest Law and Litigation, prosecutor Jonathan Frieden – who is overseeing the prosecution of nearly 500 Line 3 cases – invoiced an escrow account funded by Enbridge for $12,207 in 2021. The request was ultimately rejected.

An Enbridge spokesperson, Michael Barnes, said the company does not “determine who broke the law or how they are prosecuted” and said Minnesota’s Public Utility Commission determines what charges are reimbursable. Frieden did not respond to a request for comment.