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Environment

Horgan Failed on Fairy Creek, Say BC Liberals and Greens

Sonia Furstenau says a new court ruling shows government’s inadequate response as police ‘overstepped authority.’

Andrew MacLeod 30 Sep 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at .

Shortly before the Supreme Court of British Columbia refused to extend an injunction against interfering with logging near the Fairy Creek watershed, Premier John Horgan defended the government’s approach.

“The RCMP is not directed by government,” Horgan said Tuesday morning. “I’ve said that numerous times. The court issued an injunction, the court then directed the police to enforce the injunction, and that’s where we are today.”

Since police began enforcing the injunction in May they have arrested some 1,100 people in connection with the protests against old-growth logging near Port Renfrew on southern Vancouver Island. So far, the B.C. prosecution service has approved criminal contempt charges against 101 people and is continuing to consider more charges.

Horgan placed the blame for the ongoing confrontation on people continuing to block logging in the area.

“We have said that the individuals who are continuing to squat in Pacheedaht territory refuse to accept ‘yes’ for an answer,” he said. “They said, ‘No logging in Fairy Creek’ and the Pacheedaht and the government agreed with that, and there is no logging in Fairy Creek. Despite that, they persist.”

A few hours later, those land defenders were declaring a victory after Judge Douglas Thompson outlined his reasons to reject logging company Teal Cedar Products Ltd.’s request to extend the injunction another 12 months.

And both BC Liberal and Green leaders were blaming Horgan and the government for the long, sometimes violent dispute.

Among Thompson’s chief concerns was the way the RCMP’s enforcement of the injunction could affect the court’s reputation.

“It goes without saying that unlawful measures imposed by those given authority to enforce the court’s order does no credit to the rule of law or the court’s reputation, especially when those measures trench on civil liberties in a substantial way,” Thompson wrote.

“The evidence before me indicates that the RCMP have now stopped searching pedestrians, but they continue to enforce exclusion zones that are more expansive than the law permits. Moreover, the media’s right of access continues to be improperly constrained.”

Thompson also cited concerns about RCMP officers having been ordered to remove individual identification from their uniforms and that in contravention of RCMP policy, some continued to wear “thin blue line” patches that “deeply offend some citizens.” The patches are seen by some as symbols of racist and violent police practice.

The injunction had been intended in part to ensure public access, but in fact there was likely to be better access without an injunction, he said.

He found the police and the government have other means of ensuring the company could do its work, including through enforcement of the Criminal Code in situations where actions of people blocking logging operations may be illegal.

The ruling raises various questions for the government, including about the RCMP’s actions and the government’s role when a judge warns the police are bringing the justice system into disrepute.

The Premier’s Office did not respond to a request for comment this morning. Nor were comments available from Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Katrine Conroy.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General David Eby said there would be no comment on the ruling. “Government is reviewing the decision from the Supreme Court. As there is a possibility of an appeal by any of the parties involved, we cannot comment further at this time.”

Interim BC Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said the ongoing dispute is the direct result of the government’s lack of action and failure to meet expectations when it comes to forestry.

“We should be clear, this rests solely at the feet of John Horgan,” Bond said. “He made promises that he didn’t keep when it comes to talking about how we’re going to have better forest practice management in this province.”

It’s a complex file, she said, and the government needs to find a balance between protecting biodiversity and the social and economic well-being of families in resource dependent communities.

“It is going to continue to be a very challenging situation at Fairy Creek and elsewhere,” she said. “We respect people’s right to protest, but there are also limits in terms of how that is done and appropriate behaviour.”

A BC Green Party response to the ruling quoted leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau saying she was “relieved” by the decision.

“This ruling does not solve the crisis of leadership we are facing in B.C.,” she said. “The province has not done its job, and now the courts have stepped in. The increasing violence at Fairy Creek has been extremely troubling, and this government has failed to keep the police from overstepping their authority.”

The government needs to follow through on its promise to put more deferrals on old-growth logging, which Horgan had said would be in place by the end of the summer, Furstenau said.

In his remarks Tuesday, Horgan said the logging rights Teal-Jones has in Fairy Creek were granted decades ago and that it was the company, not the government, that sought the injunction.

“Our entire forestry infrastructure is the result of a hundred years of evolution, and we are at a point now where Forests Minister Katrine Conroy has laid out an intentions paper for what the forest industry will look like in the next century,” he said.

That means moving towards getting more value out of a lower volume of wood and protecting special places, Horgan said, citing the old-growth review his government commissioned and its embrace of the 14 recommendations that it received.

“I think the broader public understands that when you’re making transformative changes in a foundational industry, you can’t do that with the waving of a wand,” he said. “I know that British Columbians want to save special places. So does this government. We’re working on that. We’ll have an announcement in the next number of weeks.”  [Tyee]

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