Environmental protests have been an accepted part of life in British Columbia since the 1960s, and the earliest days of Greenpeace.
The spectacle of someone unfolding a banner from a Vancouver bridge has been a common occurrence. As are marches in the streets. Protests in the wondrous forests of the province have also been frequent. Activists mostly got their message across without inconveniencing people just trying to get on with their lives.
That philosophy is being challenged.
Protests to stop old growth logging in the province have grabbed the public’s attention, but for all the wrong reasons. These activists have decided that the best way to win over converts is by blocking highways and bridges – something they’ve vowed to do all summer.
So far it’s been a colossal bust.
No one, of course, questions the right of the Save Old Growth movement to get their point across. The people behind the campaign want old growth logging in the province stopped. Period. They have made a stand at various logging sites on Vancouver Island. Dozens have been arrested.
The government has remained unfazed and is sticking by its commitment to allow some old growth logging to continue – a position supported by several First Nations communities that rely on these operations for income. (Some Indigenous leaders have implored the protesters to stop trespassing on their traditional territories, end their blockades and stop spreading lies about the amount of old growth forest that exists. Those overtures have been ignored.) The government has said that a complete shutdown of old growth activities would mean the loss of 15,000 jobs. Meantime, there are still vast swaths of old growth forests that are protected.
The Save Old Growth folks want it all.
As mentioned, the group has decided the best way to draw attention to its cause is by shutting down highways. A few weeks ago, it blocked traffic in a high-density tunnel that goes underneath the Fraser River, a significant corridor for those heading into Vancouver from points south of the Fraser. Equally, it is a vital transmission route for people heading to catch a ferry to Vancouver Island. Conversely, people living in southern communities of Greater Vancouver use it every day to head to the airport among other places.
I suppose it’s precisely for this reason that the Stop Old Growth folks thought it was a good idea to partly block it, snarling traffic for hours. It wasn’t.
Think about the number of people who were more than inconvenienced by this so-called strategy. The people who were heading to the airport to catch flights. The ambulances that might not have been able to get through the tunnel to respond to an emergency on the other side. The people who missed chemotherapy treatments in a Vancouver hospital. Those who missed critical doctor’s appointments or other meetings.
Does anyone in this organization honestly believe this tactic won anyone over? And it’s continued since, with protesters lying across highways and bridges elsewhere, to the fury and indignation of thousands. And if those people were agnostic on the old growth issue before, they are now likely firmly in the government’s camp.
The rage that some drivers have felt is real. Some have emerged from their vehicles before police arrived to drag away protesters lying on roadways. There is nothing safe about the situation.
One of the principals behind the protests is Zain Haq, a 21-year-old Simon Fraser University student from Pakistan who is here on a study permit. He said his group has sought inspiration from past movements in history, such as the Freedom Riders, who were white and Black activists who defied race laws in the United States by sitting beside one another on buses.
Which is a little different than blocking highways and possibly endangering the lives of innocent people.
It’s amazing Mr. Haq is still in the country and hasn’t been deported. When on a study permit there are conditions to follow, including obeying the law. He’s been arrested and spent time in jail for criminal contempt. He’s facing five charges of mischief. In many other places he would have been sent back to his country of origin a long time ago.
With a long, hot summer expected to begin any day in B.C., traffic on the province’s highways will begin to increase dramatically. A public emerging from the pandemic will have little patience for the antics of the old growth protesters. Someone is going to get seriously hurt.
There have been many successful environmental campaigns in B.C. over the decades. But this one has the earmarks of a complete disaster, one that could set other movements back years.
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