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Arrests made in Victoria, Nanaimo as old-growth protests shut down highway

The blockades were part of a province-wide protest against logging of old-growth forests on Monday.

Seven protesters with a newly formed group called Save Old Growth were arrested after blocking the southbound lanes of Douglas Street at Burnside Road East for several hours on Monday.

Victoria police Const. Cam MacIntyre said the protesters were advised at 8 a.m. they’d be arrested for mischief if they didn’t move on. They were arrested at 11 a.m., said police.

Two people were carried away and five were walked from the area by police officers. In total, about 20 were involved in the protest.

The six adults and one 17-year-old youth were later released from cells with a court date and conditions — no injuries were reported, according to both police and protesters.

Another three people were arrested in a similar demonstration in Burnaby that blocked westbound traffic on Willingdon Avenue and Grandview Highway. In Nanaimo, another two were arrested after a blockade at Milton and Nicol streets starting at 11 a.m., said organizers.

As part of a province-wide protest against logging of old-growth forests, Save Old Growth had planned to block exit ramps on the Trans-Canada Highway in Victoria, Nanaimo, Vancouver and Revelstoke.

Protesters wearing high-visibility reflective vests blocked the Victoria highway starting at 7:45 Monday morning. Traffic cones were set up in front of them. Police closed traffic on Douglas between Finlayson Street and Hillside Avenue during the protest and traffic was diverted.

The protesters said they were told early on they would be arrested if they didn’t move on, said spokeswoman Abbie Sherwood.

“These people are not criminals,” she said. “We are non-violently protesting and we are going to stand in that decision today.”

View Royal Mayor David Screech, who had to drive around the protest on his way to work at Gregg’s Furniture & Upholstery Ltd. on Government Street, appealed to Victoria and Saanich police over Twitter: “Can’t you just remove the protesters from the roadway so we can all get on with our day?”

“I don’t think that anyone should be able to hijack the general travelling public and prevent them from going where they want to go on public property,” Screech said in an interview. “It just drives me crazy that we, we just let them get away with it.”

Save Old Growth, which in one media release calls itself “an offshoot” of Extinction Rebellion, an environmental group that has staged similar blockades on roads and bridges, had given the provincial government a deadline of Jan. 9 to stop all old-growth logging in B.C.

Spokesman Brent Eichler said “the time for discussions and petitions and all that is long past; our world is in too bad a shape for that now.”

He said there are plans to increase the action to multiple times per week until old-growth logging is stopped.

“We’re in a great extinction event and life on the planet is disappearing and that’s why people like us are so desperate to do anything we can to try to turn things around.”

During the 2020 provincial election, the B.C. NDP promised to implement proposals made by the Old Growth Strategic Review Panel, which called for a major shift in how old-growth forests were being managed.

In early November, the provincial government announced that an expert panel had mapped 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forests at risk of permanent biodiversity loss.

It asked more than 200 First Nations in B.C. to decide within 30 days whether they supported deferrals in those areas or if the plan required further discussion.

The Forests Ministry said on Dec. 16 the government had received responses from 161 nations, with nearly three-quarters indicating they need more time to review technical information or to incorporate local Indigenous knowledge into the proposed deferral plans before making a decision.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com