Authorities responsible for management of BC forests are ignoring the concerns of citizens. Forest defenders have responded by confronting those authorities. Trust in government, industry and the judicial system has eroded.
ON A LOGGING ROAD NEAR ADA-ITSX/FAIRY CREEK watershed, an RCMP police sergeant and a forest defender are holding hands, with tears in their eyes, having a deep conversation about civil liberties, and the price of democracy.
They each share the most intimate moment about their family histories.
Mist is a middle aged woman who feels that ruthless deforestation has turned her province into a tinderbox. She feels responsible, as an older person, to “do something.”
“The Sergeant” is an RCMP officer, whose job is to enforce a BC Supreme Court injunction against citizens interfering with active logging in TFL-46. The Sergeant wants to know why Mist is so determined to cross the police line and get arrested.
She replies, “My Jewish ancestry contains generations of survivors, who fought hard and took tremendous risks. If they didn’t have a tradition as justice fighters, I wouldn’t be here.”
Mist, on far left, with Lady Chainsaw, and members of the RCMP (RFS photo)
The Sergeant softens. “I came to Canada from a war-torn country, where members of my family were raped and murdered. All the ‘protest’ we were allowed was to go and light candles outside the door of the church.”
Mist and the Sergeant share a long, quiet moment together. Mist says: “I’m sorry, I’m deeply sorry—but how did that work out for you, just lighting candles? If I were to go Downtown and light a candle, and wait for the wheels of justice to turn, all of the ancient forests would be liquidated.”
“Understood,” says the Sergeant.
“How can I stand by and watch the insanity of clearcutting ancient old-growth forests in the midst of a climate emergency and biodiversity collapse? In Canada, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. How can I not try to use them?”
“Officer, the RCMP are complicit in the liquidation of the very last old growth watershed. Look me in the eye and tell me whether you don’t think protecting the last 3 percent is reasonable?”
“Yes, saving the last 3 percent is reasonable, but you’ve made your point. Why can’t you just protest outside the exclusion zone?”
Exclusion zone? Mist and the Sergeant are miles away from active logging, at an RCMP roadblock. The RCMP have been using an arbitrary series of “exclusion zone” checkpoints as a nuisance tactic to stop media, lawyers and citizens from witnessing the arrests of tree sitters and other blockaders.
The tactic has been incredibly successful, as it forces blockaders to hike many kilometres in to even approach active logging. Without the public there to support them or witness police action, camp after camp gets isolated and rolled up by the RCMP tactical squad, and hectare after hectare of old growth falls to the saws.
Normally, exclusion zones are a police privilege used to keep the public safe at disasters, and allow officers a safe place to operate. A reasonable exclusion zone in TFL-46 would be 10 metres back from Justice Verhoeven’s “50 metres from active logging”—not 10 kilometres.
For Mist, the whole legal process lost all credibility when the RCMP started using the zones to circumvent enforcing the injunction as laid out by Justice Verhoeven, which specifically stated that citizens have “rights of public access, and the right to participate in lawful protest”.
“Why don’t you make the whole Province an exclusion zone, except a one-foot square in my kitchen, for me to stand in with a cardboard placard?”
The Sergeant looks down. He knows the zones are unreasonable, but his boss will fire him if he doesn’t follow the instructions.
She takes a step forward, and takes his left hand in her right, and holds it for five minutes. The two of them stand there in silence, trying to find a dignified way forward.
Mist says, “I want you to know I am so so sorry about what happened to your family, and if I had been there, I would have stood in front of them to protect them.”
The Sergeant’s voice cracks, and he glances up and says: “Thank you.”
Their eyes hold each other. For a moment, it all seems to hang in the balance. He takes a stick, and draws a line in the dusty road. “Please, this is your last chance, will you go back, just behind this line. Please.”
Mist puts her arms out and says “Cuff me.” A moment later, she is locked in a paddy wagon for crossing an imaginary line. On what charge is she arrested? None. She will not be charged.
The defenders call this practice “catch and release.” The lawyers call it “unlawful arrest.” The RCMP know full well that a charge of breaking the injunction 10 kilometres from active logging will not hold up in court.
It might even get them held in contempt of court, but we will never find out, because catch and release also robs citizens of their legal right to appear before Justice Verhoeven, and tell him how the RCMP are making a mockery of his injunction.
Indigenous protesters face down RCMP on logging road near Fairy Creek (photo: @arvinoutside)
Canada needs a feedback loop, so judges can keep an eye on how their court orders are being enforced, but we don’t have a process for that. Instead, we have 500 forest defenders spending long, hot days in paddy wagons, talking about how they feel about all this.
Forest defenders feel that the laws of our country are being twisted and abused, not even for any public good, but so corporations can make obscene profits. They feel that the RCMP are acting like vigilantes. The consensus of the entire old-growth protection movement, is that “TFL-46 has become a police state.”
Are we trying to save the last old growth, or democracy?
WHILE MIST AND THE FOREST DEFENDERS continue to light their candles, the wheels of justice turn, ever so slowly. 150 arrests later, on July 20th, BC Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson rules that “The RCMP’s geographically extensive exclusion zones and checkpoints are not justified.”
He clarifies that the RCMP may only arrest and remove people who actually violate the injunction by approaching within 50 metres of active logging, and states that “important civil liberties were being compromised by the RCMP’s enforcement actions.”
But the trees keep falling, and the paddy wagons keep filling.
Between Mist’s arrest, and Judge Thompson’s statement, an area twice the size of Nanaimo is clearcut, and millions of tonnes of carbon are pumped into the atmosphere, that the forests of BC would have captured, had they been left standing.
Lytton sets the record for Canada’s hottest temperature, and burns to the ground. Seventy percent of the oysters off the Sunshine Coast cook in their shells. During the worst fire season in history, the forest defenders ask for a logging “cease fire,” and are refused.
Premier Horgan continues to hide behind a wall of silence. Greta Thunberg urges him to pass the recommendations of his own old-growth panel. No reply. BC’s world-renowned forest ecologist Dr Suzanne Simard offers to show him how to protect old growth and create jobs. No reply.
The exclusion zones are still being used, and the trees continue to fall.
AUGUST 9th ROLLS AROUND—the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. It’s also the one-year anniversary of the blockade, and forest defenders flock to Victoria to hear Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones, Dr Suzanne Simard and many others speak. After a year of living in tents, the defenders want to connect with the 85 percent of British Columbians who agree with them. A hot bath would be nice too, maybe an ice cream, and a day off!
The rally/celebration at the Legislature on August 9, 2021 (photo by Leslie Campbell)
The RCMP use the opportunity of the small camp presence to drop SWAT teams at three camps, to destroy people’s property, and arrest citizens for, well, who knows? Perhaps camping without a permit?
The officers read out Justice Verhoeven’s injunction as justification for their actions, although the BC Supreme Court has twice told them that what they are doing is unlawful.
A forest defender is shoved into the bushes, and then kicked to the ground. A witness asks, “Did you assess him for injury?” The RCMP reply, “He is a grown man, he just fell down.” The protester has a broken ankle. A volunteer medic gives him crutches and escorts him to safety.
Heli Camp after RCMP destroyed it Monday. RCMP raided HQ, River and Heli Camps simultaneously, using ATVs to drive up to Heli Camp. Three ATVs are seen parked at the right in the photo. RCMP destroyed the camp, including the kitchen structure, tents, etc. (photo courtesy of Rainforest Flying Squad)
The RCMP are targeting First Nations youth, as they always do, and many officers are wearing the “Thin Blue Line” insignia which the RCMP banned in 2020. Indigenous leader Rainbow Eyes, one of the 90 arrested on August 9th, says: “The Thin Blue Line badges they wear on their uniforms are a symbol of hate and the oppression of my people. I have zero percent trust in the RCMP in terms of my safety and the safety of my Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
Rainbow Eyes just before her first arrest in May 2021 (photo by Dawna Mueller)
She notes, “We are a nonviolent movement here to save ancient forests. Why are we subjected to RCMP who wear banned symbols of racism? Do they think they are above the laws they are employed to enforce?”
The RCMP are breaking into parked cars, and stealing cell phones and laptops. They use a bulldozer to take down the camp kitchen, and chainsaws to cut down trees with tree-sits in them. None of these activities were authorized by Justice Verhoeven.
And where are the media?
Due to the surprise nature of the 8 am raid on August 9th—and the illegal use of an exclusion zone—there are no media present.
Defenders in Victoria shorten the celebration and flood back to the forest, hiking around the illegal exclusion zones, to pick the wreckage of their vandalized tents out of the bush and start the cleanup.
If the RCMP won’t follow the explicit instructions of two BC Supreme Court judges, what are we to do? Our “first past the post” political system has failed us, and now, the only resort we have left, our justice system, has failed us too.
Ben Barclay has been defending forests by practicing ecoforestry for 40 years.