A slew of legal applications involving the contentious Fairy Creek old-growth blockades are moving forward in B.C. Supreme Court this week as the protest becomes one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canada.
Nearly 1,000 old-growth defenders have been arrested in the year-long protest on south Vancouver Island as of Saturday evening, according to RCMP.
The number now exceeds the arrests made during the historic War in the Woods protests in the Clayoquot Sound over clear-cutting on the island’s west coast that saw 856 people arrested before it wrapped in the early 1990s.
The Fairy Creek arrests are a result of RCMP enforcement of a court injunction won by logging company Teal-Jones in April after protesters with the Rainforest Flying Squad (RFS) blocked access of forestry crews to various stands of old-growth in tree farm licence (TFL) 46 near Port Renfrew.
On Tuesday, court proceedings got underway in Nanaimo to address a variety of court requests, including a one by Teal Cedar Products Ltd. to extend the injunction by a year.
A lawyer for Teal Jones told a B.C. Supreme Court judge that the protests against logging are becoming more sophisticated, organized and dangerous and “anarchy” will result if the extension is not granted until September 2022.
“It falls on this court to restore law and order on southern Vancouver Island,” said Dean Dalke. “If there is no injunction in place, the blockades will be there.”
Dalke said the blockades are impeding the company’s legal rights to harvest timber and alleged that the actions of the protesters pose dangers to employees and the RCMP. He said the numbers of protesters in the area ranges from 100 to 500 people as a bus service brings supporters to the area on weekends.
Dalke said the protest is organized through the use of social media, adding that a helicopter drops supplies to people camped deep in the forest.He said the protesters have placed spikes in roads, chained themselves to gates, sometimes dug themselves into trenches or attached themselves to trees in efforts to thwart police who are enforcing the injunction.
“These are clearly designed to frustrate RCMP enforcement,” said Dalke. “This is what the RCMP has been faced with since May 18, and it’s been getting worse.”
RFS spokesperson Kathleen Code said on Monday, the activist group plans to challenge the application.
“Teal-Jones is asking for a one-year extension, which seems quite unbelievable,” Code said. “Injunctions are usually meant to be a rare and temporary sort of remedy so that seems rather excessive.”
She added RSF’s legal counsel plans to argue the extension request should be denied on the basis that Teal-Jones and the RCMP have acted unlawfully and failed to follow aspects of the injunction, Code said.
Saul Arbess, another RSF spokesperson and one of a trio of applicants involved in upcoming court applications, said the environmental group wants a court order declaring RCMP use of exclusion zones after July 20 were illegal.
The group is also seeking to find the RCMP in contempt of court due to continued violations of the original court order issued April 1. RCMP continue to use broad exclusion zones unnecessary to carry out their arrest and removal duties safely, contrary to a July B.C. Supreme Court ruling that deemed such exclusion zones, RCMP checkpoints or roadblocks, searches and media restrictions illegal, Arbess said.
The court application also alleges the RCMP has used excessive force, including the “unrestrained” use of pepper spray, as well as members refusing to identify themselves to people subject to enforcement, and unlawfully seizing personal possessions and vehicles of people not in contravention of the injunction.
In turn, the RCMP, represented by the Attorney General of Canada, is applying to the court to change the injunction to allow the force greater powers, including the right to control access to areas in the injunction zone where enforcement is occurring and any routes in or out of those areas.
Failing that, the RCMP wants to search people, bags or vehicles for supplies that might support protest efforts in the extensive injunction area — even at night, or outside the immediate time frame of enforcement action.
Should individuals refuse a search or officers find any suspect materials, RCMP can deny entry into the injunction zone, or TFL 46 — a large geographical area wedged between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew.
The court’s limiting of access control points and temporary exclusion zones close to enforcement areas allows protesters to overwhelm or surround police, the RCMP application said.
Protesters are using more sophisticated devices to frustrate officers, who also observe the transport of materials to bolster blockades, the RCMP added.
If the RCMP doesn’t secure the changes to the injunctions, the force “will have to reevaluate its ability to continue to conduct enforcement operations,” the court document said.
Justice Thompson is scheduled to hear arguments from all the parties involved until end of day Friday.
However, dozens of people arrested at the blockades, and who are facing possible criminal charges and jail time, had their court dates deferred until Nov. 15.
The concern is if the RCMP is granted increased powers to contain activists without oversight, there could be violence and illegal activity by its members, and people’s freedom of movement and right to peaceful protest will be curtailed, Arbess said.
“The problem is it would give police free rein, without witnesses, to carry out their arrests,” he said. “We have the right to observe and the right to support the blockaders.”
—with a file from The Canadian Press