Despite being handed a $600 fine from the province of Alberta for trespassing on private property in the Crowsnest Pass area in October 2020, Levi Williams-Whitney is undeterred in his fight to raise awareness about the irreversible environmental harms that a proposed coal mining project in the Rocky Mountains could cause.
He was fined a few weeks after he published the video showing himself on land owned by Benga Mining.
“Strip mining is a big deal and it’s something all Albertans need to be a part of the process,” Williams-Whitney said outside of the Pincher Creek courthouse on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old is an avid hunter and environmental student at the University of Lethbridge.
Williams-Whitney said the vitality of the eastern slopes, drinking water and wildlife surrounding it are all at stake.
Benga Mining, operating as Riversdale Resources, is planning to build a Grassy Mountain open-pit coal mine just north of Blairmore.
“I do believe if I wouldn’t have released the video, I wouldn’t have heard anything about it, so I think it definitely is an attempt to hinder people from speaking out about some of these issues,” Williams-Whitney said.
He added he’s grateful for all of the Albertans who showed up to show solidarity in the cause.
Over a dozen protestors from all over central and southern Alberta could be seen protesting outside of the courthouse Tuesday morning.
“I was proud of him. I thought, ‘Thank goodness we’ve got people that love that backcountry,’ which we all love. We fish and swim in it in the summer. That’s where we vacation quite often,” said Mary Nokleby.
“My husband and I are here because we understand the importance of the eastern slopes to the water security of the western provinces. He’s from Manitoba and I’m from Saskatchewan originally.”
Nokleby and her husband currently live in Calgary and drove down to Pincher Creek for the day to show support.
“Public land-use changes of this magnitude would require thorough public consultation before that is changed, and that has not happened in this case, which, to me, is an egregious breach,” said Elizabeth Williams, a protestor and founder of Mountains Not Mines, a group speaking out against coal mining in the eastern slopes.
“I’ve listened to a number of scientists and experts, both in terms of the environment and economy, and I do not see any benefit to the people of Alberta,” said protester Denise Calderwood.
Calderwood is a senior and a farmer, noting that this was the first protest she’s ever attended.
“Your land property values will go down to nothing. People don’t realize how serious this is. This is our last chance to say no to destructive industrial development,” said protester Paul Armstrong, who said he works in the tourism industry.
Williams-Whitney has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting his next court date. He said he’s been contacted by a number of lawyers offering to work pro bono for him, although he has yet to make any decisions on legal representation.
The UCP revoked a 1976 policy last spring that had protected the Rockies and their eastern slopes from open-pit coal mines.
The government reinstated the policy last month and promised there would be public input on coal mining and no more leases on the most vulnerable land would be sold.
Global News has reached out to the Alberta environment minister’s office for comment.
With files from The Canadian Press