Forest defenders allege systemic RCMP misconduct and seek widespread stay of criminal contempt charges.
Snuneymuxw, Snawnawas & Stz’uminus Territories, Nanaimo, BC
DEFENCE LAWYERS for Fairy Creek forest defenders are in the BC Supreme Court today and tomorrow to formally add 121 people to an Abuse of Process application. Forest defender “applicants” argue the RCMP engaged in systemic violence and abuse last year, during the enforcement of an injunction in the Fairy Creek watershed on southwest Vancouver Island.
The applicants will assert that this conduct deprived them of their fundamental freedoms, including their right to peaceful assembly, freedom of conscience and expression. The Abuse of Process applicants are seeking a stay of their criminal contempt charges in one of the largest abuse of process applications in Canadian history. A hearing on the application has not been scheduled yet.
After an injunction was granted to Teal Cedar Products Ltd. on April 1, 2021, allowing the company to log and clear-cut large areas of old growth in the Fairy Creek watershed, the RCMP and its Community-Industry Response Group began enforcement actions in May 2021. Those enforcement actions continued through the end of 2021, resulting in approximately 1200 arrests, considered the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
The Crown filed charges of criminal contempt against more than 400 people, many of whom face jail time for their nonviolent actions. Roughly 85 people have been found guilty of contempt thus far. The Crown has sought fines as high as $3000, up to 100 hours of community work service, and custodial sentences ranging from 3 to 10 days in jail for at least 12 forest defenders. Many more yet to be tried are facing even longer jail sentences.
All Abuse of Process applicants experienced some form of police misconduct during the arrest or detention process, and all are facing contempt charges. Forest defenders claim that the Charter and common law violations, which deprived them of their fundamental freedoms, were “an objective of the RCMP’s enforcement operation,” according to the Notice of Application filed earlier this year. Examples of abuse include pepper spraying, punching, kicking, dragging, and “pain compliance” techniques. Assaults were also carried out by police in a widespread manner against people who were never arrested or detained.
RCMP members pepper-spraying forest defenders at Fairy Creek in 2021
Applicants claim that police imposed arbitrary and unlawful “exclusion zones” to curtail civilian, legal, and media oversight while engaging in enforcement that, at times, relied on excessive force and coercion. The forest defenders claim that the RCMP raided their camps, and carried out systemic destruction and seizure of property, including necessities for survival in the back country, such as vehicles, food, shelter, communications devices, medications, fuel and other items, some of which were turned over to Teal Cedar. Applicants will argue that police denied them food, water, medication, medical assistance, and access to legal counsel.
In a February preliminary hearing, BC Supreme Court Justice Douglas W. Thompson granted permission for the applicants to advance their claims. The application will be heard by Justice Robin Baird at the courthouse in Nanaimo. “The importance of this case cannot be understated,” said Karen Mirsky, co-counsel for the applicants and president of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “Are the police permitted to engage in tactics, including what we say is misconduct, to curtail peoples’ right to assemble and to express their thoughts and beliefs, when they are not actively breaching a court injunction?” asked Mirsky. “We will argue that the RCMP’s interpretation of the injunction in this manner is a very clear case of abuse of process, and convicting those who actively breached the injunction would amount to the court’s approval of this type of overall enforcement.”
Mirsky and her co-counsel Noah Ross state in the Notice of Application that there is “no alternative remedy capable of redressing the prejudice,” and a stay of charges is “the only remedy which will adequately dissociate this Court from the misconduct of the RCMP.” While lawyers are seeking a stay of charges against the applicants themselves, they recognize that “the court has the ability to stay charges against all contemnors if it feels this is necessary to preserve the integrity of the justice system.”
“The RCMP is acting as a cudgel for industry by engaging in violence against forest defenders on behalf of Teal Cedar and its voracious appetite for logging Old Growth forests,” said Rani Earnhart of the Rainforest Flying Squad. “The police cannot be allowed to use excessive force and other tactics in order to suppress our movement to end Old Growth logging without legal and serious consequences.”
Less than three percent of BC’s original productive old growth forests remain standing. The “Old Growth Strategic Review Panel” for the province urged an end to old growth logging in 2020, yet the government has thus far failed to implement its recommendations. Two recent polls show that 85 percent of BC residents are “highly concerned” about Old Growth logging, and 92 percent support a moratorium on old growth clear cutting.
Forest defenders began blockading roads on the western ridge of Fairy Creek on Pacheedaht territory in August 2020, but only experienced police abuse after the Teal Jones injunction was imposed in April 2021.
The Rainforest Flying Squad and Last Stand for Forests is a volunteer-driven, grassroots, non-violent direct action movement committed to protecting the last stands of globally significant ancient temperate rainforest in British Columbia. They stand in solidarity with Elder Bill Jones and other members of the Pacheedaht Nation in the protection of the ancient forest of their ancestral territory. For additional info: www.laststandforforests.com.
BC Premier John Horgan at a press conference announcing he was all for saving old-growth forests
AFTER ANNOUNCING 2-year logging deferrals for the Fairy Creek watershed and the central Walbran Valley, BC Premier John Horgan said: “These are monumental steps. I know it appears, at the moment, to be just another announcement by another premier...”
He was right. It does appear to be just another announcement by another premier, a hyperbolic one at that. Monumental? Definitely not.
Horgan announced 2-year logging deferrals on “2000 hectares” of old forest. It would have been monumental if, first, he had announced the permanent protection of 2000 hectares of actual old forest and then, second, had said something to this effect: “This is just the first, irrevocable step, one that can’t be backed away from in two years or ten, in our steadfast commitment to save the rest of BC’s now rare, biologically productive old forest, of which as little at 400,000 hectares remain in all of BC—can you believe we let that get so low? What an ecological catastrophe! Who were the nit wits-that engineered this fiasco!”
That would have been monumental. Such a statement would have shown that Horgan wasn’t just playing kick-the-can-down-the-road. Instead, he kicked two cans down the road.
First, the premier re-announced a 2-year deferral in the central Walbran that most of us already knew had been deferred in September 2020, and wasn’t in any danger of being logged. According to the Order In Council that established the deferral, it was to cover 1,489 hectares. Today the ministry recognized that it contains 1150 hectares of old forest.
Second, Horgan deferred logging for 2 years in the “small area” that Teal Cedar Ltd has been claiming for months was all that the company could cut in Fairy Creek Valley because “most of the watershed is protected forest reserve or unstable terrain, and not available for harvesting.”
After Horgan’s announcement, mapping released by the ministry of forests showed the area at Fairy Creek that’s been deferred for 2 years. Based on that mapping, we estimate there are about 100 hectares of the valley in the deferral area that weren’t already “protected forest reserve or unstable terrain,” as Teal Cedar Products Ltd has described it.
Putting what Teal has said together with what Horgan announced today and the ministry has mapped, we find the surprising result that 100 + 1150 = 2000.
If you’re thinking, “Wait, that doesn’t add up,” you’re correct. What that arithmetic shows is the sleight of hand used today by industry, the ministry and the premier. Last week, according to them, Fairy Creek Valley was almost all “protected forest reserve or unstable terrain.” This week, in a monumental step, the premier turned all that “protected forest reserve or unstable terrain” into a 2-year logging deferral.
The Rainforest Flying Squad had originally been trying to save about 2100 hectares of contiguous rainforest, including the entire Fairy Creek Valley and areas of intact forest outside it. But their movement to save the last of the old-growth forest on southern Vancouver Island is apparently gaining more and more public support as their forest defences are assaulted by a militarized unit of the RCMP. What will they do now?
Following Horgan’s announcement, the Flying Squad’s Saul Arbess made a gracious acknowledgment of Horgan’s monumental step: “It’s a good deferral, however it falls short of the deferrals required to pause logging in all of the critically endangered areas currently being defended, for generations to come.”
Why would Arbess think 100 hectares is a “good deferral”?
This is an important point. Arbess knows that the part of Fairy Creek Valley that Teal and the ministry have claimed are “protected forest reserve” are actually only “protected” until Teal and the ministry decide to move the “protection” to some other part of TFL 46. This happens all the time, all over BC, to Old Growth Management Areas, Wildlife Habitat Areas and other forms of transitory “protection” that have been created by the ministry of forests to create the appearance of protection—until such time as a company wants to log that “protected” area.
If there was a monumental step taken today, it was that the ethical corruption that grips the ministry of forests and the forest industry was made plain, for everybody to see. To do this and then call it an “honouring” of a First Nations’ request is disturbing.
When he isn’t out walking through forests, David Broadland is writing about the problems they face.
The Canadian Standards Association's “sustainable forest management” certification of old-growth logging is dishonest greenwashing and needs to be removed.
PERHAPS NO ORGANIZATION IS BEHAVING MORE DISGRACEFULLY in promoting the logging of the last vestiges of old-growth forest in our country than is the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). The CSA has developed standard Z809-16, which is used to certify forestry firms as practicing “sustainable forest management,” in spite of their logging old-growth forest. Last week, Ecojustice, on behalf of six individuals and supported by two organizations, submitted a request to the federal Competition Bureau to investigate this certification, claiming it is false and misleading, effectively a dishonest marketing ploy. And they’re right, once old-growth forests are gone, they are gone forever. CSA’s certification is like claiming that the wiping out of the cod fishery off the Maritimes was sustainable.
Opposition to the logging of these ancient matriarchs is widespread in the Interior and on the Coast. For over a year in the Fairy Creek Valley on Vancouver Island, protesters have been blockading roads, chaining themselves to trees and sitting in the canopy to stop Teal Cedar Ltd from felling majestic old-growth trees. The blockade continues in spite of arrests—and occasional brutality—by the RCMP. The protests are not the actions of a few hippies, but instead are part of a broad public-based movement. Even on far-away Pender Island where I live, for example, there are about 70 people who are contributing money and supplies, going frequently to Fairy Creek and planning creative methods to save the old matriarchs. Furthermore, public surveys clearly show that British Columbians want the few remaining old-growth trees to survive. Horgan should pay attention.
The Ecojustice complaint comes on the heels of my submission of January 18, 2021, when, together with 13 individuals/organizations, I formally requested the CSA to remove the word “sustainable” from its standard and to revoke the certification from those companies who log old-growth trees. Many of those who joined me also made independent submissions. On June 29, 2021, the CSA rejected all our submissions stating that our comments “are outside the scope and intent of the CSA Z809 SFM Standard.” We are striving to appeal this decision.
The old-growth forest in the Fairy Creek Rainforest took thousands of years to develop. How can logging of this forest and then converting it to a planation be “sustainable”? (Photo by TJ Watt)
Recently, I visited Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew, one of the most beautiful places in western Canada with enormous cedars and Douglas firs towering overhead. Shafts of golden light angled down to the dusky forest floor. The shadowy forest was rich with sword ferns, moss-covered logs and witch’s hair dangling from branches. There was a spirituality; a deep closeness with nature. I was in awe of the vast knowledge these matriarchs have accumulated during a long, long lifetime. Why would we murder these national treasures?
The main reason is that no politician wants to antagonize the communities who depend on the lumber industry. Thanks to vast forestlands, forestry was once one of the largest industries in the province. But since about 1990 the situation has turned bleak and in response to declining profits and market share, BC forestry companies have cut large, old trees, claiming they must do so to remain financially viable. At the same time, they receive CSA certification. After all, being endorsed as “sustainable” can only boost their environmental image and help sales.
Communities who have seen forestry jobs diminish should understand that preservation of old-growth trees will help the industry recover. Environmentalists want the forest industry to be healthy, and a significant part of BC’s economy, but they want this to happen responsibly. These goals are achievable because the remaining productive old-growth ecosystems only constitute a tiny fraction of the forestland in the province. There are masses of younger trees to supply wood to sawmills and the wood-working industry. Yes, sawmills will need to be re-fitted, but that’s doable. Furthermore, old-growth trees have more value left standing, rather than being chopped into small pieces to be used as shingles and other products.
Dan Hager, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce has watched tourism take off since Port Renfrew labelled itself as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada. “Simple logic,” he said, “it’s more economical to preserve grand old trees than cut them down.” Since then, the BC Chambers of Commerce, the largest business-advocacy organization in the province, agreed, passing a motion to protect old-growth forests.
Quantitative evidence comes from a recent study conducted by ESSA Technologies in which revenue from logging old growth was compared to that from retaining old growth. The latter included benefits from carbon storage/sequestration, recreation, tourism, salmon habitat, non-timber forest products like floral greenery and mushrooms, and research/education opportunities. The study concluded that society is better off when old-growth forests are protected rather than logged.
Thus, forestry-dependent communities should welcome those wanting to protect old growth, and not consider them as enemies who want to destroy forestry jobs. Like Port Renfrew, communities will benefit from retaining old growth, and those benefits will be truly sustainable over the long term.
But the forestry industry in its mad pursuit of profits does not listen. Furthermore, it yields immense power so that Premier Horgan and his NDP party refuse to take any meaningful action, in spite of campaign promises to the contrary. His (in)actions are being labelled as “Horganized Crime.” Another label is ecocide.
The CSA, which usually deals with consumer product safety and quality control, and claims to be an independent body, has become a disgrace. As longtime conservationist Vicky Husband remarked in Ecojustice’s press release for the complaint to the Competition Bureau, “What serious standards organization would certify the logging of the remaining 3 per cent of our most valuable, big-tree forests as “sustainable”. To which Anthony Britneff, another complainant, adds, “Only one backed and supported by the Forest Products Association of Canada”.
The CSA and the forestry industry are worrisome signs that society is heading for a cliff, shepherded along by neoliberalism and the immense power and size of international corporations.
Permanently destroying ancient trees cannot be certified as sustainable. It’s time for the CSA to speak proper English … and for a ban on old-growth logging.
Hans Tammemagi is an award-winning journalist and photographer living on Pender Island.
ON SATURDAY, MAY 22, I WAS STANDING PEACEFULLY before an RCMP roadblock set up near the intersection of Caycuse Main and Maclure Main, with 100 citizens. We were warming our hearts around a sacred fire, bearing witness as a young Pacheedaht woman sang in her own language, songs of healing and resistance, in response to being savagely beaten by three male white police.
It was a powerful and moving moment.
The young woman put her drum down, and explained that she had just been ordered to leave the public space we stood in, because the RCMP had arbitrarily declared it to be an “exclusion zone” around the injunction against active logging in Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46.
Citizens protesting the legality of the RCMP exclusion zone at Caycuse (photograph supplied anonymously)
Because the active logging was 9 miles away, and the injunction specifically states “50 metres from active logging and machinery,” she told us that she considered these exclusion zones, which are meant to protect citizens at crime scenes, to be an abuse of police discretion. She wished to exercise her rights and freedoms under the Charter and “stand here.”
I asked, “May I stand with you?” She smiled and said “Yes.”
Twenty of us got up and linked arms at her side. Thirty armed police engulfed us in an arrest wave from the rear. Moms with strollers scattered, children ran for safety. One seven year old said “Mom, I want to stay.”
When two burly officers used unnecessary force to hustle an Indigenous woman still tending the fire away, I stepped forward, and extended my hands out to an officer, to facilitate handcuffs. He said “would you like to be arrested?”
What a question! Well, “yes and no.”
What I would like, is for Premier Horgan to start practicing sustainable forestry, so we can stop killing 8 loggers a year in clearcuts, and rebuild the 40 percent of forestry jobs we just lost to mechanization.
What I would like, is not to be complicit while my species causes an entire bioregion to go extinct.
But time was short, so I said “I’m with her.” And so I was.
The old-growth at stake—these trees in Caycuse area are likely gone now (photography by Will O'Connell)
From my paddy wagon seat, I watched the muscular white male police officer slam the much smaller female Indigenous fire-tender through the small steel-framed opening, and heard the sickly thump of her head hitting the steel wall.
I heard him hiss: “You just assaulted a police officer,” so that she would realize if she laid a complaint, he would claim she was “resisting arrest.” Her Indigenous word, against his white male professional word. She knows how that will turn out. She kept quiet, so it wouldn’t get worse.
Racist violence is alive and well in Canada. At least in Alabama, it’s on the table, and Black Lives Matter. Here in BC we sweep it under the rug, and RCMP officers at Fairy Creek (Ada’itsx), are wearing Blue Lives Matter ribbons.
Nine of us, perhaps five identifying as white, spent the next six hours, the first two without water, being softened up, and having our resistance gauged, by seven different officers. The door would open. “You’ll never be able to cross a border again. Just try getting a job with a criminal record.” Slam. An hour later, “By the way, it’s a long weekend, so you’ll be in jail until Tuesday, but who knows, maybe the judge is busy, or on vacation. And this is no nice little jail.”
One of us replied: “Uh, the ventilation fan is broken, and its about 35 degrees in here, can you just leave the door open a crack for air?” “You should have thought of that before you committed a criminal act.” Slam.
“Under the uniforms, the RCMP are people, but their military culture has dehumanized them. They suffer from police brutality too.” (photograph by Dawna Mueller)
The police had tacked on a criminal charge of “mischief” to the civil charge of violating the injunction so they could threaten us with criminal records.
Then the door opens, and “good cop” brings us one tiny water bottle for three, and says: “Hey, if you sign here, you can walk free, once we drive you to Cowichan Lake.” Someone replies, “Can you give us a lift back down the 100 kilometres of logging roads to our car?” “No, that’s Uber.”
Despite myself, I smiled. Under the uniforms, the RCMP are people, but their military culture has dehumanized them. They suffer from police brutality too.
Most of us were prepared to go to jail, so we could try and convince a judge that our need as humans to slow the rate of species extinction is more pressing than the need of Teal Cedar to profit from that extinction.
If we succeed, the judge can use their discretion to “be kind” with the sentence. If we don’t, we can get 90 days in jail for singing in a public road.
And while we sat in the wagon deliberating, six species went extinct on our planet.
After all of that, and so much more, just before midnight, I walked up to the intake window at RCMP Cowichan Lake, where the local detachment officer stood frozen and mute. Puzzled, I smiled to reassure him, and said words to the effect of “Book’em Dano, TFL 46.” He blinked. The officer who assaulted the Indigenous fire tender said “Get out of here, we’re not charging you.”
I asked to be charged. He refused, and hustled me out of the building.
Police have discretion to apprehend a suspect, and release them. George Floyd (may he rest in honoured peace), handed a store clerk a counterfeit $20 bill. But was he a counterfeiter? Maybe someone gave him the bill? If things hadn’t gone so wrong, police procedure was to apprehend him, investigate, and decide if charges were warranted, or just record the incident, and release him.
But at Caycuse, the RCMP had 30 officers present to witness and testify in court that we were in the injunction zone. We were told to leave, and refused. There was no doubt. Why keep us in a paddy wagon for six hours, and drive us 100 kilometres, to release us?
Then the penny dropped. They never had any intention of booking us. If 1,000 citizens go to jail, the trees win. If 20 citizens go to jail, the logging corporation wins.
But why are the RCMP spending millions of public dollars to help the logging company win? Why weren’t they just doing their jobs and enforcing the injunction? The betrayal of being lied to by seven police officers all day shocked me more than I expected.
And then the bag of pennies dropped. I realized this was not just any ordinary civil disobedience, like the Votes for Women campaign, or so many others, that won us everything good in society.
This is a real War in the Woods.
After Tzeporah Berman, now director of Stand.earth, was arrested, she said “Compared to this, Clayoquot Summer was the Picnic in the Woods.”
After a little digging, I discovered that the Rainforest Flying Squad is facing an elite RCMP “Clearcutting Flying Squad,” led by Dave Attfield, the Gold Commander who oversaw the raid at the Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory.
A BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) press release, which you can read here, details how this Community Industry Response Group (CIRG) was originally created at Premier John Horgan’s request, requiring the declaration of a state of “provincial emergency” under the Provincial Police Service Agreement.
A state of emergency, that the public was not informed of.
As a citizen, I’d like to know:
Is this the same squad, or a new one?
Does the “provincial emergency” or CIRG, have an end date?
Is the CIRG audited? What are our costs?
The name “Community Industry Response Group” makes it sound like a reconciliation effort. To date, the squad’s activities have all been to suppress communities to facilitate industry, at taxpayer’s expense.
I consider this deployment to be a conflict of interest, as TFL 46 is in John Horgan’s riding, and the forestry workers who are benefitting in the short term represent votes for John. A judge who owned shares in Teal Cedar would recuse himself from our trials.
Using a military group to crush dissent is something I expect from China, not British Columbia. This unit has helicopters and a SWAT team. At Wet’suwet’en, they were authorized to use lethal force, indirectly as “lethal oversight,” as reported in this article in The Guardian. At Caycuse, they have threatened to shoot the tree sitters out of the trees with snipers.
In response, some sitters came down, some refused. I watched a tree sitter who climbed down, and was released, lying back in the arms of her support group, sobbing and crying for an hour. “And then they…” more tears… “and then....”
She could hardly get a full sentence out until she was completely overwhelmed, her body wracked with convulsive sobs.
She poses no threat to life or property. She is not a criminal. The forest defenders are scrupulously non-violent. She’s just a kid, about the same age as my daughter, who climbed into a tree to protect the ecosystem she lives in, full of ancient trees that have no voice of their own.
The BCCLA has written an open letter to the Province stating that “the RCMP’s actions are…an inconsistent, arbitrary, and illegal exercise of police discretion to block members of the public, including legal observers and the media, from accessing the area.”
Forest defender holds up Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (photograph by Dawna Mueller)
The Canadian Association of Journalists is calling on courts to limit the discretionary powers of police to enforce injunctions, because “police have failed again and again” to respect the Charter. Forest Defenders will be asking our judge for this protection in our trials. If we can get a trial!
John Horgan has a lot to answer for. I believe he should start by apologizing to the Fairy Creek Forest Protectors, and then:
Disband the RCMP Community Industry Response Group.
Declare a provincial emergency to protect BC’s Ancient Temperate Rainforest Biome, which is critically endangered.
Ensure unrestricted access for media, international observers, and citizens.
Come out of hiding and start providing some leadership.
Create an environment for dialogue by declaring a temporary moratorium on TFL-46, compensate the families of the loggers for lost time, provide other logs for the Pacheedaht sawmill, and sit down with the Forest Defenders to talk.
The tragedy, is that this war in the woods is completely unnecessary.
Here in BC, we are lucky to have the foremost forest scientist in the world—Dr Suzanne Simard. She has just published her first book, Finding the Mother Tree, and has initiated the Mother Tree Project to prove that we could have double the forestry jobs by practicing woodlot forestry that preserves a forest’s biomass.
She’s putting “Peace In The Woods” on a plate for us by creating a scientific forestry blueprint for healing our ruined clearcuts, and turning them back into old growth, which the Forest Service should have done before they started clearcutting. Eco Foresters call it “single tree selective forestry.” Loggers call it “hand logging.”
Hey John—more forestry jobs means more votes for you. Maybe it’s time to park the helicopters, and pick up the phone.
Yellow Cedar is a West Coast BC-based writer.
Forest defenders persist at blockades as 59 are arrested and old-growth logging begins.
May 22, 2021
AFTER NINE MONTHS of sustained, successful blockades against old-growth logging in remote valleys on Southern Vancouver Island, the forest defence action led by the Rainforest Flying Squad entered a new, more intense phase on Monday, May 17, 2021.
The ensuing week has seen the use of significant police resources to carry out arrests of forest defenders; continued—and creative—resistance on the part of blockaders; legal action on a number of fronts; and the commencement of old-growth logging by Teal Cedar Products (a division of Teal Jones Group) in Caycuse Valley in Ditidaht territory. The endangered Western Screech Owl has also made an important appearance.
On May 17, RCMP established a blockade and checkpoints on the logging roads leading to the Caycuse blockade to begin enforcing the BC Supreme Court injunction granted to Teal Cedar Products on April 1—despite the fact that the injunction has been appealed and, according to some legal watchdogs, that exclusion zones are not legally justified. As of May 23, close to 59 individuals have been arrested within exclusion zones (which RCMP has rebranded as a “temporary access control area”).
FOCUS sent myself and photographer Dawna Mueller to witness and document the events on the first day of arrests, Tuesday, May 18.
The evening before, press representatives were contacted by the RCMP and given no option but to meet RCMP at 7 am the next morning in a parking lot in Honeymoon Bay, near Lake Cowichan, if they wanted to get anywhere near the expected arrests. After quickly renting a car that could handle the rigours of logging roads, we left Victoria at five in the morning.
Eighteen members of the media showed up and were chaperoned by RCMP minders past police lines to witness the enforcement. Television crews from CHEK, CBC, CTV, and Global, as well as representatives from smaller publications and freelancers milled around in a rainy parking lot after checking in with the RCMP. We were shepherded to the front of the police checkpoint at the McClure service road—about seven kilometres from the camp itself—for another hour-long wait.
Many supporters of the forest defence action were gathered in front of the police line, with some arriving from the other camps or from one of the two convoys that drove in from Port Renfrew and Duncan the same morning.
“We are here to protest and support our friends who are here in the front line at Caycuse,” said Solene, who was from camp headquarters near Fairy Creek. The forest defenders chanted slogans, such as “shame on Horgan,” sang songs, and spoke to media waiting at the gate.
Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones—one of the most visible Indigenous supporters of the movement to protect Vancouver Island old growth—spoke to those gathered on the site.
“My girlfriend’s going to be mad,” said Jones, laughing when asked about how he was feeling. Jones has been in ailing health recently and was shivering slightly by the end of his speech. Despite the cold, intermittent rain, the 87-year-old came out to protest. “I figure we are here doing the right thing, to protest and tell the government we are here to save our old growth,” said Jones who was quickly whisked off after his speech by friends concerned about his health.
Jones’ determination would be echoed by those waiting to be arrested beyond the police line.
The forest defenders at the Caycuse blockade had been given 24-hours notice to vacate or risk arrest the day before. Gently smouldering embers in recently abandoned campsites suggested that many had left at the last minute. Banners and signs hung limply along the road which used to house a lively crowd of forest defenders and their tents. Only a few legal observers remained behind to observe and document the arrests.
Each of the arrestees—most of them chained up, locked down, and in one case, suspended 10 metres off the ground to make arrests difficult—were served with injunction papers and given a chance to leave freely before they were arrested.
RCMP officers move in to Caycuse Camp on May 18 (Photograph by Dawna Mueller)
Val Embree, grandmother, and Mitchell Steinke, musician: arrested May 18 (Photograph by Dawna Mueller)
Perhaps it is symbolic that the two first arrestees at Camp Caycuse were Val Embree, a grandmother who described herself as a longtime forests protector, and Mitchell Steinke, a younger man who strummed a guitar and sang songs about nature and trees until he was arrested and escorted away from the camp gate.
His guitar was left behind.
“The land, the trees, the forest, belongs to the people, the First Nations, and all people,” said Rainbow Eyes, a Da’naxda’xw-Aweatlala Indigenous forest defender from Knight Inlet, who had chained herself to a road gate with a bicycle lock and another forest defender, Brandon Busby.
Rainbow Eyes and Brandon Busby: arrested May 18 (Photograph by Dawna Mueller)
Several officers held up tarps to obstruct the views of legal observers and media during the arrests of those who had chained themselves down, ostensibly to protect “proprietary” police techniques.
The arrests did not happen fast. Journalists would wander off from police supervision to look at the various structures left behind during lulls in the arrests. One particularly well-built outhouse stands out in memory, with journalists and RCMP constables both remarking on the ingenuity of the engineering.
One protector who had chained himself into a hollowed-out piece of old-growth cedar set in the middle of the road, would have to wait hours before it was his turn. Intermittently, the sounds of a helicopter and drones would come from the sky.
Forest defender Uddhava (Photograph by Dawna Mueller)
“I’m engaged in this apparatus as a physical blockade, a physical delay mechanism, but also as a symbolic blockage of industry into the heart of untouched environment,” said Uddhava.
He was carried out on a tarp after he went limp and refused to walk.
Uddhava would be the last to be arrested that first day of arrests.
There were two more forest defenders, blocking the way of logging trucks. They were chained to the sides of a massive slice of old-growth cedar salvaged from a previously logged stump, positioned in front of an unnamed bridge overlooking the Caycuse River.
But it was getting late. RCMP officers decided to call it a day, leaving those two blockaders to be dealt with the following day.
Many more than two would be arrested in the following days.
Tensions rise as logging begins
Since the first day of arrests, tensions have risen as supporters are denied access beyond the exclusion zone and press access has been significantly restricted. Reports and videos of more forceful enforcement are trailing out through social media.
The Fairy Creek and Caycuse areas do not have cell service, which means that the flow of information is staggered throughout the day and is often hours out of date. On Friday, May 21, the Rainforest Flying Squad’s Instagram account, which they rely on to communicate to supporters outside of the dead cell zone, inexplicably went down after they posted a video where Bill Jones’ niece and media representative Kati George-Jim was forcefully arrested. The Rainforest Flying Squad has since reported, “Instagram claimed that our site was promoting violence, when in fact it was exposing police violence.”
What we do know is that five dozen people had been arrested by Sunday, May 23—and that police had moved to enforce the injunction beyond Caycuse Camp, in other areas of the watersheds near Fairy Creek. On Saturday May 22, the Rainforest Flying Squad reported that 15 RCMP vehicles were en route to dismantle Eden and Waterfall blockades near Port Renfrew. Later, the RCMP said that six were arrested there.
During the week, we’ve heard complaints from some arrestees about how they have been treated.
Uddhava—whose arrest FOCUS was prevented from witnessing as his extrication process was blocked from view by tarps held up by RCMP—has complained that officers placed his head in a canvas bag and bent him forward without letting him know beforehand.
“Everything was black, and I was bent forward with multiple hands on me,” said Uddhava. He said that the RCMP used some sort of pneumatic device to cut the lock off his neck, which made him worried that his airway was going to get cut off. “I felt very vulnerable in that situation, knowing that it would have been very easy for the RCMP to have knocked me unconscious or to choke me out without anyone seeing,” said Uddhava.
Forest defender Uddhava (Photograph by Dawna Mueller)
He also alleges that RCMP did not let him relieve himself during the two-and-a-half hours from his initial arrest to the holding cell at Lake Cowichan, despite multiple requests to do so.
Another complaint—one of colonial violence—came from Kati George-Jim, niece of Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones. She was arrested on May 20 at Caycuse. In a video, made after her release in Lake Cowichan, she claimed the RCMP had tackled her using an “excessive amount of force.”
George-Jim says she was charged with obstruction of justice and assault of a police officer, though she was acting as a legal observer and not blockading. She says she was only attempting to help a young man being tackled and treated roughly by the RCMP. She stated, “From the video you will see the only assault was of me.” (This was on the Instagram account that was still down as of press time.)
One of the tree sitters at Caycuse said that RCMP officers on scene had threatened to use rubber bullets and tear gas to get another tree sitter out of her perch. RCMP spokesperson Corporal Chris Manseau denied that there was any tear gas on the site and that the RCMP doesn’t use rubber bullets. He said the RCMP takes such allegations seriously and these require further investigation.
Complaints have also come from media. Throughout the RCMP’s enforcement process, press have been restricted in their ability to observe and report on the ongoing arrests. Journalists were initially denied any access to the site on May 17. After threatened legal action, they have been allowed in under RCMP supervision during daylight hours, but still with varying degrees of access to the site and blockade supporters.
RCMP are citing “common law rights” and “public safety” as justification for the restrictions on media—despite no documented instances of violence involving forest defenders over the nine months of blockades. The Rainforest Flying Squad and others involved have consistently stressed their commitment to non-violence.
On May 18, when FOCUS was present, press access restrictions changed throughout the day, ranging from a 50-foot distance and a tight media cluster, to relatively unfettered access to forest defenders who weren’t actively being arrested. But when I had to return to my vehicle to retrieve my packed lunch, I was accompanied by two RCMP officers for the 40-minute walk and was not allowed to move my vehicle closer.
On May 19, press movement was more restricted; media personnel were told to remain at least 160 feet away from the arrests, on the grounds of safety. Ricochet Media journalist Jerome Turner reported that journalists needed a police chaperone to relieve themselves, and that he was forcibly pushed back and detained with the rest of the media in a space more than 200 feet away from the arrests.
Independent filmmaker Gabriel Ostapchuk was arrested that day, while attempting to document the arrests, on an alleged obstruction of justice charge. The charge was dropped and he was released the same day, according to a press release from the Rainforest Flying Squad.
On May 20, journalists were not allowed to witness six arrests conducted by the RCMP in the morning; nor were they allowed into the area as before. Press access to the area was only allowed after noon.
Active logging began in Caycuse on May 21, while forest defenders were still on site, leading the Rainforest Flying Squad to call Worksafe BC complaining of active, unsafe tree falling.
The same day, two applications seeking to overturn the RCMP exclusion zone were submitted to court, according to Noah Ross, a lawyer retained by the Rainforest Flying Squad.
Ross claims that the RCMP is overstepping its powers by setting up an exclusion zone. “Exclusion zones are only legal in certain limited circumstances in which there are serious public safety risks. It’s explicitly not allowed by the injunction,” said Ross.
“It appears that the RCMP are once again willing to enforce exclusion zones that are not legally justified in order to make their job easier. They’re willing to overlook people’s civil rights in order to give industry access to their logs,” Ross continued in the statement. “It’s not legally justified.”
The Canadian Association of Journalists is also calling on courts to limit the powers of the RCMP and other police agencies when issuing injunctions. The BC Civil Liberties Association and Legal Observers Victoria have released a joint statement condemning RCMP actions. It states, “In our view, the RCMP’s actions are overbroad in scope and constitute an inconsistent, arbitrary, and illegal exercise of discretion to block members of the public, including legal observers and the media, from accessing the area and to monitor police activity.”
Another development towards week’s end was that Teal Cedar may be contravening the Wildlife Act by logging in the area. Royann Petrell, a retired UBC professor, captured audio recordings and photos of Western Screech Owls five times within the past two months in the valley and neighbouring watersheds like Fairy Creek. She has been in correspondence over the matter with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
Logging of old-growth forest in the Caycuse Valley area (Photograph by TJ Watt)
On Saturday, May 22, after arrests at Waterfall camp, the Rainforest Flying Squad’s first camp in the area, the organizers stated, “It guards the approach to the Fairy Creek watershed. As soon as it is cleared, road building crews will begin cutting down trees and carving a road into the last unlogged watershed in the San Juan River system.”
Joshua Wright of the Flying Squad said, “If the government allows road-building into the headwaters of Fairy Creek, it will prove they value corporations’ profits over the last of this province’s biodiversity—and over the well-being of all generations to come.”
Scientists have found that less than 1 percent of BC’s 50-million hectares of forested area contain large or very large trees like those in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse Valley regions. BC forest scientists have determined that 33 of BC’s 36 forested biogeoclimatic zone variants have less than 10 percent old forest remaining, putting them at high risk for extirpation of certain species, such as the Western Screech Owl, the Northern Spotted Owl, the Northern Goshawk and Marbeled Murrelet. As well, conservation of BC’s old-growth temperate rainforests is considered to be an effective, low-cost strategy for keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.
Kathleen Code, a member of the Rainforest Flying Squad, said, “If [the Province] had kept their word [about implementing all the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review], there would be no citizens risking their lives or freedom by locking themselves into strange structures, or sitting on platforms 30 metres above the ground while trees are being cut down around them, trying to keep each other calm, watching bear cubs fleeing the destruction.”
Michael John Lo was recently senior staff writer for the Martlet and has joined FOCUS Magazine.
With no apparent legal justification, the RCMP has imposed restrictions and conditions on journalists' access to publicly-owned land on which arrests of forest activists are likely to occur on Tuesday.
May 17, 2021
TODAY, THE RCMP has escalated the situation at Fairy Creek by establishing their own blockade and checkpoint at publicly-owned McClure Forest Service Road, to “prevent a further escalation of efforts to block access contrary to the Supreme Court Order,” and to limit the access to the Fairy Creek watershed to only select individuals, who must provide identification and state their purpose.
Journalists not already embedded with the Fairy Creek blockades — from what the RCMP calls “recognized media outlets” — will only be allowed to access areas beyond the checkpoint with handlers from the BC RCMP Communication Services supervising their stay. According to an RCMP press release sent out late today, the press pool may only enter the site during the day. “No one will be permitted to remain, however, you may choose to return the next day and again be escorted back into the designated media area,” said RCMP spokesperson Christopher Manseau.
“We cannot guarantee you access if you are not there [by 7 a.m.],” continued Manseau. “I will not be able to provide further information on the anticipated plans for tomorrow or subsequent days ahead.”
An earlier press release from the RCMP highlighted the blockade at the main Fairy Creek Rainforest camp, but by late today its focus had apparently shifted to the blockade on the Caycuse Mainline road, about 30 kilometres, as the raven flies, away from the Fairy Creek Rainforest blockade.
The initial police action appears to be aimed at a blockade about 30 kilometres north of the Fairy Creek Rainforest blockade, pictured above (Photo by Dawna Mueller)
These RCMP actions are result of the injunction granted to Teal Cedar Products Ltd, which empowers the RCMP to arrest forest defenders currently sitting in defiance of the order. Lawyers on behalf of the Rainforest Flying Squad have filed an appeal, but police presence in the area has increased. Helicopter flyovers have been reported by those on the ground. Now, the RCMP is looking to block access to at least one of the camps maintained by old-growth advocates.
While the RCMP calls this latest action a “temporary access and control area,” the tactics and language very much evoke memories of the exclusion zones used by RCMP during the enforcement of the Wet’suwet’en injunction in 2020.
At that blockade, Ricochet reporter Jerome Turner, along with a documentary filmmaker, was detained by officers and kettled away from the scene of the arrests for eight hours. The Tyee has also reported instances of RCMP officers threatening reporters with arrest, keeping them further than necessary from the action, and censoring what they could photograph. These actions have come under much criticism from media and journalism groups for threatening press freedom in Canada.
A number of journalists have already been turned away from the checkpoint at McClure. Free press access to the Fairy Creek blockades is now at risk.
Noah Ross, a lawyer familiar with the matter, says that the BC Supreme Court injunction does not prohibit individuals from being physically in the injunction zone. Only certain activities are illegal, such as blocking harvests and vehicles.
“Whatever public safety reasons there are, they will generally be unjustified restrictions of civil liberties,” said Ross. “Likewise, the injunction is not a ground for an exclusion zone.”
FOCUS Magazine will be sending journalists to the scene and will continue to monitor the situation.
Michael John Lo was recently senior staff writer for the Martlet and has joined Focus Magazine.