A Chilliwack man who participated in protests outside of Sardis elementary school and ignored a letter banning him from school grounds pleaded guilty to a rarely seen charge in the courthouses Tuesday.
On the day he was due to go to trial, Mark Alexander Van Heek, 41, appeared in front of Judge Kristen Mundstock and pleaded guilty to one count of disturb/interrupt school or school function under the B.C. School Act. A count of mischief was dropped.
He received a $500 fine and one year’s probation, with conditions that include not going onto school grounds and not having any contact with a specific teacher at the school.
Between Feb. 2 and 7 last year, Van Heek was one of a handful of parents who stood in front of the building at 45775 Manuel Rd. holding Canadian flags. Crown prosecutor Aaron Burns said they seemed to be most concerned with COVID restrictions and pandemic protocols such as mask-wearing in the school.
“It was a little unclear about exact messaging,” Burns said. “But it appeared to be linked to the trucker convoy (protest) going on at the same time in Ottawa.”
Burns said the school received calls from several people concerned about the protesters, who set up on the grass very near to the entrance to the school. Burns said that on Feb. 2, Van Heek got into a heated discussion with his child’s teacher, and over the next few days the protests outside the school became disruptive enough that the principal got the RCMP involved.
On Feb. 7, all of the protesters were presented a letter banning them from the school grounds under section 177 of the School Act. The other protesters accepted the letters and followed the ban, but Van Heek refused to take the letter, but he admitted he was aware of the ban. The next day he still walked his child to school. Carrying a Canadian flag, he ignored several warnings from an RCMP constable as he turned onto school grounds. He was arrested on the spot, with that moment captured on video by a person Crown believe to be his spouse. The video was posted on social media and ended up in the hands of Burns, who presented it to the court as evidence.
The person filming the arrest on a cellphone can be heard saying in a loud voice, “This is what happens when you carry a Canadian flag” and “Not all police officers are nice.”
Van Heek’s child can also be heard sobbing in the video, which Mundstock called “disturbing” as she delivered her reasons. She said the fact that the video starts well before Van Heek gets to the school grounds suggests “he expected something to happen,” and said that causing trauma to the child was an aggravating factor.
Van Heek’s lawyer, Jayse Reveley, conceded that his client participated in the protests between Feb. 2-7, but on Feb. 8 he suggested he was simply walking his child to school. Despite carrying a Canadian flag and being filmed, Reveley insisted it “wasn’t an explicitly political act.”
Reveley noted that his client hasn’t been to the school since the incident, and argued that Van Heek should be allowed to go there to participate in school functions. Van Reveley noted that Van Heek hasn’t been a “disruptive element” before or after the incident and has no criminal record.
“He wants to be involved as a regular parent in the regular course of his child’s schooling,” Reveley noted.
Mundstock disagreed, saying the people at the school “need a break” from Van Heek.
“The impact of the offence upon the school population and staff was grave, and for their protection he will not be permitted to attend the school,” she said.
Mundstock said the case has nothing to do with his political beliefs, and everything to do with his decision to ignore a lawful order to stay away from the school.
“Mr. Van Heek is entitled in a free and democratic society to have his own political views, however, Mr. Van Heek is not entitled to violate laws to further those political beliefs or to make a political statement,” the judge noted.