1 year into injunction enforcement at Fairy Creek blockades, 100s of protesters await trial
49 sentences for contempt so far, ranging from a $500 fine to 10 days in jail, CBC analysis shows
In the year since RCMP began enforcing an injunction against protests near the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island, 403 people have been charged with contempt of court, 49 people have either pleaded or been found guilty and one person has been acquitted, a CBC analysis has found.
The numbers are based on the latest information provided by the RCMP and the B.C. Prosecution Service.
They come as summer approaches and protest organizers begin calling for activists to return to blockade sites on Crown land near Port Renfrew, where police have been enforcing a court injunction won by logging company Teal Cedar since May 17, 2021.
While RCMP say they're still patrolling the area to keep logging roads clear, the numbers show that not every arrest made at the blockades leads to charges or a trial.
As of Dec. 2, the last date on which anyone was arrested, RCMP say there have been a total of 1,188 arrests, including:
- 919 for contempt of court (breaking the injunction)
- 222 for obstruction
- 22 for mischief
- 12 for assaulting a police officer
- 10 for breaching release conditions
- one for counselling to resist arrest
- one for causing a disturbance
- one related to the Immigration Act
Police say 110 people have been arrested more than once, accounting for 261 of the total number of arrests.
Based on the number of arrests, last year's protests — which saw numerous confrontations between police, protesters and workers, and accusations of Mounties acting violently — are considered the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
Of the 919 arrests for contempt, police have recommended charges for 451 people. The Crown says it has assessed 438 of those files so far, approving 403 charges.
A fraction of those cases have made their way through the court system, and in all but one completed case — 49 people to date — the accused have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty. Their sentences have ranged from a $500 fine to 10 days in jail.
There are still about 350 allegations of contempt to be heard.
CBC has yet to determine how many charges have been laid in connection with the non-contempt arrests.
In B.C., police do not lay charges themselves; instead, they present evidence to Crown counsel, who then determine if there is a case to be made.
Police language key in acquittal
For the one person who has been acquitted of contempt charges to date, the decision hinged on the language a police officer used when informing protesters of the injunction.
Before police make arrests, they usually tell people about the injunction and give them the option to leave on their own. If they do not leave, police remove the protesters, using tools and heavy equipment if necessary, and then arrest them.
Several rulings by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson — who has been presiding over the contempt cases — have shown that when police make the announcement, they don't necessarily read the exact text of the injunction.
In one case posted online, Thompson found that the wording still made it clear the accused was breaking the injunction.
But in the acquittal, the accused was arrested for marching and drumming, walking between a line of police and a line of protesters.
In that instance, the police officer making the order specifically asked people to step aside from and remove the blockade. Thompson ruled that marching and drumming was not the same as participating in a blockade, so the accused was found not guilty of contempt.
Teal Cedar, a subsidiary of the Surrey-based company Teal-Jones, originally applied for the injunction so it could continue logging work on the lands where it hold a licence.
Protesters had been in the area since August 2020, saying the work threatened old-growth forest and calling for an end to old-growth logging in B.C.
In many cases, as enforcement began, they set up elaborate blockades on logging roads, often locking themselves into contraptions called "sleeping dragons," which made it difficult for police to remove them.
While the validity of the injunction itself has gone back and forth in court, it was upheld and extended in January of this year. The injunction now prohibits blockades until Sept. 26.