As land defenders protesting against old-growth logging in British Columbia voice concerns that loggers are becoming more aggressive and violent, the logging company on site said its workers are on the receiving end of “outrageous and dangerous” behaviour, such as having genitals shaken at them.
For more than a year, people have been at Fairy Creek, near Port Renfrew, a small community on Vancouver Island, blocking logging companies from clear-cutting 1,000-year-old cedar trees at the last intact watershed on the southern region of the island. It’s the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada. More than 1,100 people have been arrested so far, according to the RCMP.
Last month, B.C.’s Supreme Court refused to extend an injunction used to stop protesters from interfering with the logging company, Teal Cedar Products, a subsidiary of the Teal-Jones Group, from building roads and cutting down the trees. The judge ruled that police had been so brutal in enforcing the order that to renew it would put the court’s own reputation at risk. VICE World News previously reported how RCMP were disproportionately targeting Indigenous land defenders. Police have reportedly worn badges with thin blue lines, a police lives matter symbol that re-emerged during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and has been linked to white supremacist rallies.
While the ruling has been heralded as a win for land defenders, several of them said loggers became more aggressive in the days that followed.
“It’s a major victory but I also don’t want to celebrate that lack of political leadership that puts people’s lives at risk,” said Shy-Anne Gunville, an Afro-Indigenous land defender at Fairy Creek.
On the day after the ruling, loggers started digging deep trenches that would prevent activists from getting to logging sites. Two land defenders responded by climbing on top of a Caterpillar excavator, a move that didn’t sit well with loggers. Two loggers then hopped onto the machine and forcibly tried to remove activists. More activists joined to help their peers during physical struggles between them and loggers.
Video captured of the incident shows one logger throwing an activist off the machine by the back of his collar. Another logger forcefully grabs a seated activist under the arms and drags him to the side of the machine. Wrestling between loggers and activists ensues for several seconds, with land defenders tugging on logger outfits and yelling “stop.”
“The event on the excavator was unfortunate,” Teal-Jones spokesperson Shawn Hall told VICE World News. “It was prompted by the illegal and dangerous action of protesters who climbed on the machine, private property of an independent contractor, putting themselves at very real danger of serious injury or death. While Teal Cedar understands the operator was frustrated, Teal Cedar does not condone his conduct.”
However, Hall also said since the injunction was removed Teal Cedar workers have “borne the brunt of outrageous and dangerous behaviour.”
“Activists have sprung out of the bush naked and run at fallers actively working with a saw in an effort to startle them. One faller took a video of a man grabbing and shaking his genitals at him, just a few yards away from where he was working on a tree… Protesters have vandalized equipment. They have dug trenches across public roads. They have clogged culverts to divert waterways and cause erosion, and dug roads and paths through the old growth forest. They have clogged the locking mechanism of a gate with construction foam, blocking access to a local First Nation. They have posted a sign stating they have spiked trees with hundreds of nails, which can potentially kill workers.”
Hall said in the face of such harassment, Teal-Jones has hired private security firms to protect workers and is reporting all illegal behaviour to the RCMP, Canada’s federal police force.
But land defenders were quick to allege that Teal-Jones workers have blocked road access, hit them, and damaged their equipment.
“My life has never felt so threatened as it has at Fairy Creek. I’ve witnessed the most brutal things in my life at Fairy Creek, and I cannot say that Teal-Jones has ever thought about anyone’s safety,” Gunville said. Gunville previously told VICE World News police officers have punched her in the face, yanked her braids, and used pepper spray on her.
As for the nudity, a member of the anti-old growth logging collective Rainforest Flying Squad said the man who flashed his genitals “doesn’t represent the movement,” which solely aims to protect old-growth trees. Another member known as Elderberry said, “People don’t want to walk naked through the bush,” but they’ve “been left to do whatever they deem necessary because the government is failing to step in and mediate.”
“This process is not working,” continued Elderberry, who asked to keep their real name concealed out of fear of arrest. “With the injunction, the police are acting totally out of line… Without the injunction, things go back to these strange, sometimes aggressive, interactions with industry… and no one really knows what to do.”
Meanwhile, Teal-Jones spokesperson Hall said if the injunction isn’t renewed, it will “allow anarchy to reign over civil society, and for misinformation campaigns to win over fact.”
Elderberry disputed Teal-Jones’ statement, citing ongoing police involvement.
“Police are still involved. It’s not total anarchy. The whole reason for the injunction not being renewed is because the RCMP acted grossly beyond their powers. That was complete anarchy,” Elderberry said.
With the Fairy Creek injunction no longer in place, police are still on site and arrests are ongoing, but their presence has gone down and they’ve been less aggressive, land defenders say. (People can no longer be arrested for contempt of court, but they can still be arrested and charged with obstruction or mischief, both criminal offences.)
According to Gunville, government inaction has forced activists and loggers into a situation without mediation or direction, and worse yet, it puts Indigenous people in the centre of tensions.
Elderberry also blamed the current dynamics on the “failing of government leadership.”
“It’s chaos,” he said. “We’re waiting for some adults to come to the table and show some leadership here—and they refuse to do so.”
Three land defenders said they want the province to implement recommendations that were included in a government-funded old-growth logging review, such as an improvement to old-growth-forest classifications.
In a statement to VICE World News, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests said it recognizes that the way old-growth forests are managed is an “emotional, divisive, and complex issue,” and while people can peacefully protest, the ministry expects all people to “follow the law.”
“The best way to stop conflict is for protesters to acknowledge that there is no old-growth logging in Fairy Creek and respect the First Nation’s request for peace so they can resolve how they want to go forward in their territory,” the statement says. (Land defenders have repeatedly said they’re work is in line with the wishes of many Indigenous community members, including Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones.)
The ministry also said it’s working with stakeholders to establish a better way to manage forests, and referenced its current moratorium on old-growth logging in some areas.
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