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Co-op Refinery asks for precedent-setting fine, jail time for local Unifor members

Co-op Refinery asks for precedent-setting fine against Unifor
WATCH: Co-op and Unifor lawyers were in court arguing whether the union violated a court order.

The Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) is asking a Regina judge to impose a precedent-setting fine on Unifor Local 594 plus jail time for its high-ranking leaders.

During a contempt of court hearing, Thursday at Regina’s Court of Queen’s Bench, CRC argued in favour of a $1 million fine plus an additional $100,000 for every day they prevent people from getting in and out of Co-op facilities.

“Out of the gate Unifor has resorted to unlawful conduct,” said CRC plaintiff Eileen Libby. She said the union has a “complete disregard for the orders of the court…100 plus times.”

READ MORE: Unifor’s lead negotiator arrested by Regina police, charged with mischief

She asked the court to impose a 90-day jail sentence on Local 594 president Kevin Bittman and a 30-day jail sentence on vice-president Lance Holowachuk for allegedly breaking a 10-minute hold-up order issued in December.

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Libby cited examples from over 20 submitted affidavits and evidence containing hundreds of hours of video.

“The union intentionally disobeyed the order,” Libby said. She accused Bittman and Holowachuk of encouraging members to further violate the Dec. 24 court order.

“That’s the behaviour that got us here today,” Libby said. “There’s a way to avoid paying [the fine]. Obey the order.”

Unifor’s request to adjourn the hearing to cross-examine the affidavits was rejected by Judge Neil Robertson.

Counsel for Unifor Local 594, Crystal Norbeck, later questioned some of the evidence presented in court. She said it’s not appropriate for Bittman to be accused of obstruction “for standing by a barricade.”

Libby said a donation to a charity of the court’s choice would be more appropriate than being fined $1 million.

If the fine is granted by the court, it will be the highest of its kind in Canada said Norbeck.

Libby agreed the fine is “significant” but said she makes no apologies.

“This union needs to understand that $100,000 is apparently the cost of being in business — zero effect,” Libby said. Unifor was fined $100,000 on Jan. 22 after being found in contempt of court.

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READ MORE: Co-op preparing its Saskatoon gas bars for fuel outages in the coming days

Norbeck assured the judge her clients Bittman and Holowachuk are taking the matter seriously. She said the suggestion of jail is very serious and that they shouldn’t “even need to spend nine minutes in jail.”

The defence highlighted the difference between Local 594 and Unifor National arguing that “some control” in the dispute is being exerted by parties not in court.

“Hundreds of people are here from the labour movement in general,” Norbeck said.

Following the five-hour hearing, Judge Robertson said he will reserve his decision on the matter. It is unknown when it will appear back before the court.

Unifor currently has barricades around Co-op’s refinery in Regina and their fuel storage facility in Carseland, Atla.

READ MORE: FCL granted court injunction to stop blockade at Alberta fuel-distribution terminal

On Thursday, a Calgary judge ruled that Unifor’s barricade around the Carseland facility must go, but picketers can stay.

A division of Unifor represents some Global news employees.

With files from Connor O’Donovan.