British Columbia

Judge says RCMP acted 'unlawfully' enforcing Fairy Creek injunction after court challenge

Opponents of old-growth logging say B.C.'s Supreme Court has dealt a setback to RCMP enforcing an injunction against old-growth logging protesters at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island in new comments around a ruling from July.

'The RCMP do not have legal authority for these actions. The actions are unlawful,' writes judge

Police use a jackhammer to remove a person secured to a logging road near Port Renfrew, B.C., during a protest against old-growth logging in the area in May. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC News)

Opponents of old-growth logging say B.C.'s Supreme Court has dealt a setback to RCMP enforcing an injunction against old-growth logging protesters at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island in new comments about a ruling in July.

On Monday Justice Douglas Thompson issued written reasons behind his judgment from July 20 that police had not established that blocking access to the site was reasonably necessary, and declared the RCMP actions were "unlawful."

"The RCMP has not established that the police actions under examination are reasonably necessary for either of the duties they assert," wrote Thompson. "It follows that the RCMP do not have legal authority for these actions.

"The actions are unlawful."

A group of journalists and two members of the group Elders for Ancient Trees had filed separate complaints against the RCMP in May. They said they were refused entry to the Fairy Creek watershed north of Port Renfrew because of the broad use of exclusion zones enforced by police.

On July 20, Thompson ruled that such access must be granted unless there is a genuine operational or safety reason to restrict it. 

In releasing his further reasoning behind the ruling on Monday, activists said it's a blow to the RCMP and their handling of the protests in the area, which have been ongoing since August 2020.

Right of regular citizens

The reasoning expands the limits on police enforcement to also include the right of regular citizens to access the area, as long as they don't violate the injunction by blocking the road or interfering in forestry.

"The right to be there and protest and for the right for media to bear witness must be taken extremely seriously," said Charlotte Dawe, conservation and policy campaigner with the Wilderness Committee. "If that right is taken away, we risk a very dark future."

Old-growth logging at B.C.’s Fairy Creek watershed has been temporarily deferred, but activists aren’t leaving the blockades. CBC reporter Kieran Oudshoorn brings us an inside look at the hardest-to-access Fairy Creek protest camp — and why activists are staying put.

The organization is not part of the legal challenge, but is campaigning against logging in the area.

Meantime, arrests continue at steady pace, with RCMP issuing near daily updates on its Cowichan Lake detachment website.

Officers arrested another 17 people Wednesday, a day after they said protesters "rushed towards the officers manning an access control point." More than 600 arrests have been made since the lengthy protest began, police said Thursday.

Last month, a police spokesperson denied having blocked media coverage of the protests, and said the force operated within the law in enforcing a court-ordered injunction against blocking the road or interfering with forestry operations.

"There have been no restrictions for the media, I like to think we've been very forthcoming with inviting the media every day," spokesperson Cpl. Chris Manseau told CBC News at the time.

    The conflict has pitted not only blockaders against the lumber producer Teal-Jones Group and police, but also highlighted a diversity of opinion within Pacheedaht First Nation, whose territories include the valley.

    The nation demanded a moratorium on old-growth logging in the area until it can develop a long-term land use plan, and some hereditary leaders of the community support the protesters.

    But the band's elected leadership and other hereditary chiefs oppose the blockade.

    Dawe listed several species that depend on old-growth rainforest for habitat, including the endangered marbled murrelet and spotted owl.

    "What happens in Fairy Creek, in the forest surrounding it, can make or break some of these populations," Dawe said.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    David P. Ball

    Journalist

    David P. Ball is a multimedia journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. He has previously reported for the Toronto Star, Agence France-Presse, and The Tyee, and has won awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Jack Webster Foundation. You can send story tips or ideas to david.ball@cbc.ca, or contact him on Twitter.

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