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15 Fairy Creek protesters face civil suit from logging company

Teal Cedar alleges they conspired to harm the logging company
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A woman protesting the logging of old-growth trees sits atop a wooden double tripod in May 2021 as a special RCMP unit prepares to extract her from the injunction zone at Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. NORMAN GALIMSKI

Fifteen people who participated in protests against logging of old-growth trees at Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew are being sued by Teal Cedar, which alleges they conspired to harm the logging company.

Along with the 15 people, the suit names one company, Atleo River Air Service, and the Rainforest Flying Squad, which it describes as an “unincorporated association of persons.”

The suit says the defendants obstructed or delayed Teal Cedar and its contractors from road construction and forestry work, and that they created safety hazards in making blockades in the Fairy Creek area.

It alleges they organized blockades, recruited people to participate and fundraised to keep blockades going.

The suit says those named in the lawsuit have caused Teal Cedar a loss of profit and goodwill and damaged the company’s reputation.

Teal Cedar did not respond to a request for comment.

About 1,000 arrests were made during 2021 protests against the logging of old-growth trees in the Fairy Creek area, where Teal Cedar owns Tree Farm Licence 46, granting the company the right to harvest within the area.

Of the more than 400 people charged, about half pleaded guilty, and many had their charges dropped, while a handful were convicted, said Ben Isitt, counsel to a defendant named in the civil suit.

It’s unclear why the 15 people named in the suit were selected, but it seems the company chose the most outspoken critics of the provincial government’s forestry policy, he said.

The “arbitrary” nature of the selection of defendants is problematic from a civil liberties perspective, because people have a right to gather on Crown lands, such as Tree Farm Licence 46, and many of the activities protesters took part in were lawful, Isitt said.

“So to be targeted in a lawsuit for that type of political expression or assembly appears to breach basic civil liberties,” he said.

Isitt said he’s considering filing an application to strike the suit against his client under the Protection of Public Participation Act, which provides a mechanism for judges to throw out lawsuits that target people who speak out on matters of public interest.

The lawsuit is light on specific allegations against individuals, and lawyers involved are waiting for Teal Cedar to provide further details, Isitt said.

Glenn Reid, a defendant, said he believes the suit is intended to have a chilling effect on future protests against old-growth logging.

Despite facing a lawsuit, Reid said he has no regrets about participating in the protests.

“You can’t stay silent because then you’re just as guilty as the people doing this stuff,” he said.

He’s encouraged by the progress on protecting old-growth trees since the protests, including $300 million in conservation funding announced by the province in late October to protect threatened ecosystems.

“There’s change in the air,” Reid said.

Rainbow Eyes, named in the suit as Angela Davidson, said she feels ill at the idea of having to pay any amount to Teal Cedar if the company’s suit is successful.

But she said the potential legal consequences and being arrested five times are all worth it for the attention that has been focused on old-growth ecosystems as a result of the protests, which became the largest act of civil disobedience based on the number of arrests.

Rainbow Eyes, from Da’naxda’xw First Nation in Knight Inlet, was recently found guilty of seven charges related to her role in Fairy Creek protests. She has yet to be sentenced and plans to appeal the decision.

Joshua Wright, an old-growth activist in Washington who initially sounded the alarm on road-building in the Fairy Creek area, called the suit meritless.

“It’s ridiculous to try to hold a number of activists accountable for supposed damages incurred by the actions of literally thousands of people,” he said. “And I think it’s just their attempt to shut people up and suppress speech, essentially.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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