British Columbia

Old growth hunger striker briefly hospitalized says he plans to rejoin escalating protests

A British Columbia man says he was briefly hospitalized on the 24th day of a hunger strike to protest old-growth logging but plans to go without food until the end of the month before joining others in escalating action against the government.

Howard Breen, 68, plans to go without food until the end of the month

Howard Breen, of Nanaimo, shown in this undated handout image, says he won't stop protesting against old-growth logging until B.C.'s forests minister agrees to a public meeting. (HO-Save Old Growth/The Canadian Press)

A British Columbia man says he was briefly hospitalized on the 24th day of a hunger strike to protest old-growth logging but plans to go without food until the end of the month before joining others in escalating action against the government.

Howard Breen, 68, said a "death-watch team'' at his home in Nanaimo noticed he was experiencing blurred vision, loss of balance due to low blood pressure and back pain around the kidneys before an ambulance was called early Sunday morning.

He said a doctor and his daughter, a cardiac nurse, determined late Saturday that he needed medical attention because he was at risk of suffering kidney or heart damage.

"We had a vote, and I abstained,'' he said Sunday. "All I said is, 'Just please let me go as far as I can take it.'''

Breen, a member of the group Save Old Growth, said his condition deteriorated after he stopped drinking liquids on Thursday, but he was back to drinking herbal teas after spending three hours in hospital.

His decision to get medical treatment was "based on science,'' he said, "something that the current government isn't acting on in respect to the climate and the forests.''

Public meeting wanted

Breen said Forests Minister Katrine Conroy spoke with him and fellow hunger striker Brent Eichler by phone on Friday but refused to have a Zoom meeting that would be recorded and available to the public.

Conroy said the government recently announced the deferral of nearly 1.7 million hectares of old growth in partnership with First Nations. The province is moving forward with recommendations of an old-growth strategic review that received input from four months of public engagement, she added.

The remains of a cut block is seen in the Fairy Creek logging area near Port Renfrew, B.C. Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

"I am concerned about the health of Mr. Breen and Mr. Eichler. I urge them to put their health first as our government continues the important work to protect B.C.'s rarest and most ancient forests,'' said the minister in a written statement.

Eichler, 57, told CBC's The Early Edition Tuesday that he ended his strike on Monday after consuming nothing but water with salt and lemon for 33 days.

Brent Eichler says he subsisted on lemon water for 33 days while calling on the province to be more transparent, and more sustainable, when it comes to its forestry policies.

He said Breen is "putting his life at risk" for a public meeting, because even though Conroy's ministry has temporarily deferred some old-growth logging, the government has not published any information about where those forests are. He wants a permanent end to all old growth logging in the province.

"Other countries do this. They only look at second growth sustainably. There's no need to be shipping old growth trees as raw logs overseas and as wood pellets. We need to completely change everything we do," said Eichler.

Citizens' arrests considered

Breen said activists are planning a "citizens' arrest'' of Conroy at a Council of Forest Industries conference in Vancouver next week. Premier John Horgan could also be targeted as part of the group's efforts to stop all old-growth logging, what they consider "crimes against humanity and nature,'' he said.

"It's not a physical execution of a citizen's arrest warrant,'' Breen said.

Police will be urged to make the arrests, the same tactic he and other members of the group Extinction Rebellion tried against then-federal environment minister Catherine McKenna in 2019 when she made an announcement in the Victoria area.

However, Breen said police arrested him after he took out some zip ties like those officers had previously used to take protesters into custody. He was not charged because the point was for police to make the arrest, Breen added.

"In the minds and hearts of Canadians, we are stepping up the consciousness-altering mindset that we are empowered to uphold our democracy and our rights.''

A logging truck is seen driving past the Fairy Creek logging area near Port Renfrew, B.C. Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

More people planning to hunger strike

Thirty-three other activists with Save Old Growth planned to join the hunger strike until the end of April, Breen said.

Two members of the group were arrested last week after allegedly chaining themselves to a 227-kilogram barrel placed in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island.

"We only allow those types of actions with the most seasoned activists because it's not the faint of heart who can be that vulnerable,'' Breen said, adding any actions aimed at having "the most highest level of success'' will remain non violent.

Save Old Growth activists have also blocked other major highways and bridges, drawing the ire of some motorists.

One Save Old Growth protester was arrested after blockading traffic on the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge Monday morning. (Save Old Growth/submitted)

Eichler, 57 noted the group is not asking for an end to all logging in B.C.

"We need to have houses for people and that sort of thing. But we can't keep cutting down the very small amount of old growth that's left in our ecosystem,'' he said.

"Once they're gone, it will be like the cod (fishery) on the East Coast. The governments were warned by the scientists that the cod were going to disappear. We still don't have a commercial fishery in Eastern Canada, to this day, decades later.''

The province defines coastal forests to be old growth if they contain trees that are more than 250 years old, while forests in B.C.'s Interior are considered old growth if the trees are at least 140 years old. 

With files from The Early Edition and Bridgette Watson

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