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.