SINCE THE FIRST DAY OF ARRESTS at the Fairy Creek old-growth defence blockades, the RCMP have been employing vast “exclusion zones.” On July 20 a BC Supreme Court judge ruled those exclusion zones are not legal, according to a lawyer for the Rainforest Flying Squad.
Justice Douglas Thompson told lawyer Matthew Nefstead that the RCMP may arrest and remove people who violate an injunction order, but may not deny access to everyone simply based on the possibility that someone may violate the order in the future.
Justice Thompson agreed that the order issued April 1 by Justice Frits Verhoeven was clear in its protection of public access and the right to participate in lawful protest, and that important liberties were being compromised by the RCMP’s enforcement actions.
Chief among these actions are the RCMP’s checkpoints and geographically extensive exclusion zones—which have ranged up to 10 kilometres—which have limited the public from getting anywhere near the forest defenders’ logging blockades. This has meant the public could not show support or engage in civil disobedience by standing on the road. The exclusion zones also meant that media representatives were limited to having to be escorted in by RCMP members, at times the RCMP chose, in order to get close to the blockades and arrests. Those representatives had to prove to the RCMP they were credentialed. (Media access was the subject of another court application, which was also ruled on favourably by Justice Thompson, who stated the RCMP must: “keep in mind the media’s special role in a free and democratic society, and the necessity of avoiding undue and unnecessary interference with the journalistic function.”)
Will RCMP gates at Fairy Creek blockades come down soon?
Justice Thompson was responding to an application last week from Elders for Ancient Trees to amend or clarify the injunction the BC Supreme Court granted to logging company Teal Cedar Ltd on April 1. Thompson’s oral judgments today, on applications for access by the Elders and by the coalition of media groups, will be followed in the coming weeks by written reasons.
“This is a major victory for the public and anyone who wants to express their disapproval of the destruction of some of the last irreplaceable old growth in the region,” said Susan Gage, a spokesperson for Elders for Ancient Trees.
The application was prompted in part when a bus carrying 15 elders was forced to back down a logging road three kilometres in the rain after they were turned away from reaching a logging blockade in the Fairy Creek area on June 15.
“We hope the RCMP will respond immediately to this court order and remove their blockades and checkpoints,” stated Gage. FOCUS contacted the RCMP for comment but did not hear back by publishing time.
Saul Arbess, another elder involved in the application, noted that in past forest defence actions, such as at Clayoquot and Walbran, RCMP behaviour has been more respectful of people’s right to protest. “Each morning, supporters would be allowed to attend the blockade. The police would come and read the injunction to everyone and then ask, ‘Will you step aside?’ Those who did not want to be arrested would step off the road; those willing to be arrested would remain on it and be removed and arrested by the officers.”
But in the Fairy Creek blockades, as in Wetsuwet’en, it’s very different, noted Arbess. Huge exclusion zones enforced with blockades and checkpoints established by the RCMP, block access to everyone on long stretches of logging roads—all on public land. Even tourists have been unable to get through.
Lawyer Matthew Nefstead, who represented the elders group, told media it seems clear based on the wording of the injunction and oral reasons by Justice Frits Verhoeven that the intent of the injunction was to ensure access to the area for the public and for peaceful protest while also clearing the way for industry. The judge stated: “The protestors are free to protest, demonstrate, and attempt to influence the government in any lawful way they may choose.”
Instead, Nefstead said, the exclusion zones prevented people who wanted to visit the area to participate in lawful protest, with no intent to violate the injunction, from being allowed to enter.
These people were able to walk through an exclusion zone set up 10-12 kilometres from Waterfall blockade camp in late May. The RCMP chose not to arrest anyone that day.
Lawyer Noah Ross told FOCUS in May that “Exclusion zones are only legal in certain limited circumstances in which there are serious public safety risks. It’s explicitly not allowed by the injunction,” said Ross. “It appears that the RCMP are once again willing to enforce exclusion zones that are not legally justified in order to make their job easier. They’re willing to overlook people’s civil rights in order to give industry access to their logs,” Ross stated. “It’s not legally justified.”
This opinion was confirmed by the BC Supreme Court
Even with the restrictive exclusion zones, well over 440 people have been arrested at the Fairy Creek blockades trying to prevent clearcutting of old-growth forests. With the new ruling against the zones, it seems likely more citizens will be able to show support and risk arrest in doing so. (In other legal news, arrestees may now face criminal contempt of court charges rather than just civil.)
Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS. She has visited Fairy Creek blockades three times, including in late May when she and hundreds of others—were able to walk past an RCMP checkpoint due to the sheer numbers and Pacheedaht elder Bill Jone’s advocacy. That story is here.