Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.
Nothing less than “anarchy” will result if a judge does not extend for a year an injunction barring protesters from impeding forestry workers trying to log a remote area of southern Vancouver Island, a lawyer for Teal Cedar Products told a B.C. Supreme Court judge on Tuesday.
The protests, said Dean Dalke, are becoming more sophisticated, organized and dangerous. “It falls on this court to restore law and order on southern Vancouver Island.”
RCMP officers, who have arrested more than 1,000 people over the past four months, might argue that burden has fallen on them. Day after day, officers have attempted to pry protesters apart to clear them from blocking the logging operations. Video after video shot by protesters has shown officers physically intervening and discharging pepper spray.
And still the demonstrators come. Mr. Dalke told court on Tuesday the numbers of protesters range from 100 to 500 as a bus service brings more into the area – which is in Premier John Horgan’s riding – on weekends. A helicopter drops supplies to people camped deep in the forest.
For their part, the protesters would argue that it falls on them to ensure old-growth logging in the area ends, and by extension, enough visibility is brought to the issue to halt old-growth logging around the province. Members of the so-called Rainforest Flying Squad have asked the court to conclude the RCMP have been acting unlawfully.
Reporter Justine Hunter visited the protest camp in May and returned last week. She didn’t find much of a path toward a solution to the intractable dispute. She watched as a fleet of RCMP vehicles pulled up at the bottom of a forestry road to face more than 70 people sitting on damp gravel, their limbs intertwined to form a giant human knot barring the only route to the approved logging sites on the mountainside above them. The tactic is called the blob, and it took officers four hours to pry it apart.
The next day, another 20 were arrested.
Teal Cedar’s tree farm licence (TFL) 46, northeast of the coastal town of Port Renfrew, boasts some of the largest trees in Canada, and rare, intact watersheds.
“Protesters have deployed increasingly extreme and dangerous methods to thwart the RCMP’s enforcement,” states an Aug. 31 document filed to the B.C. Supreme Court by the federal Attorney-General. The tactics include individuals burying themselves under boulders and rotting logs, or suspending themselves on tripods with nooses around their necks. They’ve embedded themselves to the ground with complex devices dubbed “sleeping dragons” using concrete, chains and metal rods.
Sitting on the ground last Thursday morning amid the human blob, Shawna Knight scoffed at the notion that the police are at a disadvantage in this fight. “That’s so funny,” Ms. Knight said as she awaited arrest for the third time. “Sophisticated? Man, it’s like, we’re using Google Maps. We just have each other. And we are persistent.”
Since the protests began, Mr. Horgan’s NDP government has promised to reform old-growth logging, but aside from some relatively small areas where cutting has been suspended, little has changed and the province is still working on its new policy.
The Premier says his government, which has committed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, must defer to the wishes of the local First Nations, who have asked that protests cease in their territories.
The Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations have a financial interest in the logging operations in their territories and reject the interference of the Rainforest Flying Squad. But the protesters maintain their actions are supported by individual members of those communities, including Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones, who has played a prominent role in the demonstrations.
In August, the federal Liberals stepped into the fray, promising to establish a $50-million old-growth nature fund in B.C. if they’re re-elected.
The protesters say their demands are not limited to the boundaries of Fairy Creek and the traditional territories of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht. They want all industrial logging of old-growth forests in British Columbia stopped.
If the court grants the year-long extension to the injunction, it’s hard to imagine how that will change the current conflict.
Diana Mongeau, a senior who has been part of the blockades since the first day, noted she and others have been invited to stay by Mr. Jones, the Pacheedaht elder.
“We are not going away.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.