The B.C. Supreme Court has delivered a rebuke to the RCMP, saying the tactics used to enforce a court injunction prohibiting blockades against old-growth logging at Fairy Creek trampled on civil liberties and put the court’s reputation at risk.
After more than 1,100 arrests, the court refused to extend the six-month-old injunction on behalf of logging company Teal Cedar Products. However, the court left the door open for police to pursue criminal law remedies if blockades continue.
“[The] methods of enforcement of the court’s order have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree,” Justice Douglas Thompson wrote in a judgment released on Tuesday.
“And, enforcement has been carried out by police officers rendered anonymous to the protesters, many of those police officers wearing ‘thin blue line’ badges. All of this has been done in the name of enforcing this court’s order, adding to the already substantial risk to the court’s reputation whenever an injunction pulls the court into this type of dispute between citizens and the government.”
The thin blue line patches worn by some RCMP enforcing the injunction have been described as a symbol of police solidarity in Canada. But Justice Thompson noted that they “are seen as provocative and insensitive by some of the citizens they serve.”
The Fairy Creek protests began in August, 2020, organized by a grassroots group called the Rainforest Flying Squad in an attempt to halt the logging of old-growth forest. The group has maintained forest camps, tree sits and road blockades northeast of the coastal town of Port Renfrew, within Teal Cedar’s Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46, which boasts some of the largest trees in Canada and rare, intact watersheds.
In April, 2021, Teal Cedar obtained an injunction against interference with its government-approved logging and road building in a temperate rain forest on southern Vancouver Island, including the Fairy Creek watershed and surrounding area.
The challenge now over old-growth logging will return to the provincial government, which regulates the forestry industry and faces increasing calls to protect ancient forests. Premier John Horgan expressed frustration earlier on Tuesday over the continued protests, most of which have taken place in his riding.
“Is this an intractable problem? Yes, it is. Does it frustrate me? Every single day,” he told reporters at an unrelated news conference before the judgment was released. He described the protesters as “squatters” on the traditional territory of First Nations, whose leaders have asked them to leave.
The Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations have a financial interest in the logging operations in their territories and want the protesters to leave. But the protesters maintain that individual members of those communities support their actions.
“Today is a day for celebration. A justice of the court has upheld people’s civil liberties,” Bobby Arbess, a rain forest campaigner who is named in the injunction, said in an interview. “People will now be able to exercise their democratic right to stand up for the last of B.C.’s old-growth forests, without the thuggish police enforcement.”
The company had asked the court to extend the injunction for one year, but Justice Thompson ruled that the order expired at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
Since the RCMP started enforcement, the protests have become one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the country.
Earlier this month, the RCMP had asked the court for greater enforcement powers, saying they were losing against what they describe as a sophisticated and well-funded protest movement using increasingly risky tactics.
In an earlier ruling in July, Justice Thompson ordered the RCMP to curtail some of their enforcement methods, but in Tuesday’s decision, he said that did not happen to his satisfaction.
“The evidence before me indicates that the RCMP have now stopped searching pedestrians, but they continue to enforce exclusion zones that are more expansive than the law permits. Moreover, the media’s right of access continues to be improperly constrained.”
Teal Cedar said in a statement on Tuesday that it is reviewing the decision and will consider its options in the coming days. The statement said the company’s work in Tree Farm License 46 is important and responsible, sustains hundreds of jobs in the province and produces essential goods.
The B.C. government could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Globe and Mail, September 28, 2021