Rainforest Flying Squad statement in response to violations
of the rights of Indigenous peoples, civil liberties, and human rights
by RCMP in the Caycuse forest area, on Ditidaht First Nation Territory
ARRESTS IN THE CAYCUSE EXCLUSION ZONE on Tuesday May 25 2021 and the various restrictions that have been placed on media, legal observers, local Indigenous peoples and the general public during RCMP enforcement actions are an illegal and extrajudicial use of force, according to legal representatives for the Rainforest Flying Squad.
Lawyer Noah Ross, who represents the Rainforest Flying Squad says that “The RCMP enforcement zone actions arguably violate the civil rights—including the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression—of those seeking to protect old-growth forests.
“This is further exacerbated by the fact that the lion’s share of the arrests in question were dropped, and led to no charges.
“When the underlying issue is one of ecological health and colonial injustice, the RCMP and government should approach civil liberties violations cautiously, or they will be seen to stand on the side of industry and frontier colonialism,” Ross added.
The so-called “exclusion zone” was enforced by armed checkpoints on public roads located on the traditional territory of the Ditidaht First Nation.
On May 25th, about 45 people arrived at Caycuse to peacefully protest the wide and arbitrary exclusion zone established there by the RCMP, and to hold a vigil for the Ancient Forests.
They included RFS members as well as many public supporters. Among these were a group of Indigenous youth from various nations, elders, and an individual who wanted to show her support for a few hours before returning to the bedside of a dying relative.
One RCMP vehicle arrived on site and officers requested that the road be cleared or civil disobedience charges would be laid. This message was delivered over a loudspeaker but was not audible for many of the people who were present.
Police liaisons approached the RCMP vehicle and requested to speak with members from the RCMP Division Liaison Team (DLT) to find out where peaceful protestors could go to continue their vigil.
Instead of replying, 10-15 RCMP vehicles rapidly pulled up and, without prior warning, RCMP officers immediately began violently arresting people. They seemed to focus first on those wearing high-visibility vests, such as legal observers and police liaisons.
At least 42 people present at the site of the Caycuse exclusion zone were arrested that day.
After these first arrests at around 8:30 AM, RCMP officers corralled the others, and announced that every person remaining was also under arrest. All had been standing peacefully off the road. Some were detained in the corral until about 7:30 PM before being transported to Lake Cowichan RCMP station, without food or support for over 13 hours. The final arrestees were not released until 10:30 PM.
The RCMP did not read the injunction to the people on the road. They did give a fair warning to withdraw from the road, and at the time arrests started, protestors were in the process of trying to learn where they should go to safely continue their vigil. Despite following orders to move, all present were arrested anyway. Clearly they were not in breach of the injunction.
There appears to have been overt misconduct by the RCMP. Unjustified force was used on numerous individuals who were peaceful and in no way resisting arrest. As well, there are accounts that RCMP officers targeted and threatened Indigenous and BIPOC youth.
One young woman of colour said an RCMP officer tried to rip off her hijab. Multiple others said they were threatened by police to have their piercings cut out. A small, 18-year-old police liaison cried out in pain when she was roughly grabbed by four or five officers and brought to her knees. She cried out “I’m a minor!” and was not resisting arrest.
Without cause or reason, all vehicles belonging to the protestors were towed about three kilometres down the road. None of these vehicles were blocking the road. Protestors were told they could access their vehicles after their release but might have to pay Teal Jones for the cost of the towing.
Over the past 10 days the RCMP have made approximately 104 arrests total in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse area. Fifty-four people were arrested but released without charges, and another 50 people have been charged for civil contempt of court and/or obstruction of justice.
Individuals have been detained for 13 hours or more before release, yet almost all arrestees have been released without charges.
The exclusion zone was set up on May 17th, 2021. It preceded the enforcement of the injunction at the Caycuse Forest Protection camp the following day.
At that time, forest defenders on site were given 24 hours to leave even if they were not blockading or violating the terms of the injunction in any way.
DLT officers informed them that anyone remaining on site at the time of enforcement -- including Indigenous peoples on their own territory, media, legal observers, police liaisons, medics and witnesses -- would be arrested if they chose to stay.
The RCMP stated that this exclusion zone is justified: "The primary concerns of the police are public safety, police officer safety, and preservation of the right to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the Supreme Court in the injunction."
However, Ross states that the exclusion zone is not in keeping with the geographic scope and terms of the April 1st, 2021 Injunction Order given by Justice Verhoeven, which specifically allows for peaceful protest within the injunction area.
He adds that “the Injunction stipulates that only those directly interfering with logging activity, or within 50 metres of company equipment, are subject to arrest.”
Limiting public access to the injunction area directly undermines the safety of those peacefully protesting within the exclusion zone. They are left vulnerable and without witnesses.
“The RCMP has repeatedly announced to the media and public that there was no planned enforcement on a given day, and used this to deny access for everyone including members of the press -- while proceeding to enforce the injunction and make arrests,” Ross said.
At the checkpoint on both days of action, the RCMP arbitrarily moved the exclusion zone line, with the effect of criminalizing peaceful public protest and severely limiting press freedom.
Furthermore, RCMP ignored reports of logging activity within very unsafe distances from forest defenders who were still on site.
Finally, the RCMP denies access for Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nation members to large parts of their unceded territory without free, prior and informed consent or a clear and properly communicated plan to facilitate their entry into the so-called exclusion zone.
“The fact that, at the same time, the RCMP actively enables industry to inflict further violence on the land speaks clearly to the state’s complicity in ongoing colonialism,” said Elder Bill Jones, a member of the Pacheedaht First Nation. Jones has welcomed the Rainforest Flying Squad and its supporters to help him protect the old-growth forests at Fairy Creek since last August.
These concerns are shared by a number of other groups, including a coalition of media and the Canadian Association of Journalists which is initiating their own court challenge.
On May 20th, the BC Civil Liberties Association released an open letter condemning the Caycuse exclusion zone.
The RCMP was censured in 2019 by its internal Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the use of exclusion zones on Wet’suwet’en and Elsipogtog territory (see here for a link to a recent Ricochet news publication regarding this issue, and here to a link to the letter from the CRCC). In a statement, The Canadian Association of Journalists also called on the courts to limit the powers of the RCMP in granting injunctions in order to protect the freedom of the press.