When Mounties moved in Monday to begin clearing a logging road blocked by old-growth activists near Port Renfrew, they drove at a crawl while Davis Briskoe and his nine-year-old son, Kiran, walked in front. It was one small obstacle of many police faced as they attempted to clear the road blocked by vehicles, including one that two people had chained themselves to.
Protesters have been camped out in the woods of southern Vancouver Island since last August to block industry from logging old-growth trees. They say they’re not against logging second-growth trees, but vow to protect the ancient forests. About 140 arrests have been made since police began enforcing a court injunction two weeks ago to clear the area for Surrey-based Teal-Jones Group, which has government approval to log in the area.
Around 11 a.m. Monday, officers arrived at the first vehicle blockade on Pacific Marine Road, a short drive from Port Renfrew, where a group of activists had gathered.
Mounties read aloud a court injunction and handed out copies to those gathered, dropping the papers at the feet of people who refused to take one.
A man whose van blocked the road agreed to move it, and an unclaimed sedan was towed away.
A woman sat cross-legged in the middle of the road, a copy of the injunction at her feet.
“Someone has to still demonstrate that this environmental destruction is abhorrent,” said the woman, who declined to give her name, before police arrived to remove her. “The RCMP are being paid by the government, who are protecting the interests of Teal-Jones. And our government protecting industry over the people of the land needs to stop.”
She went limp as an officer handcuffed her arms behind her back and tried to lift her to her feet.
A man who identified himself only as Uncle began to drum and sing to the woman, his music intensifying with the voices of the group as officers unfolded her legs and lifted her into the back of an RCMP pickup truck.
“We’re not here to oppose the police. We’re not here to oppose government. We’re just here to protect something so sacred and beautiful,” Briskoe said to officers after they removed the woman.
It was one of at least six arrests Monday. Five people were arrested for breaching the court injunction and one for obstruction, said Sgt. Elenore Sturko, a media relations officer for the B.C. RCMP.
Officers removed two women who had chained themselves to a vehicle, holding up a tarp to block media and activists from observing the tools and methods they used to cut the chains attaching the woman to the vehicle. The activists protested the use of the tarp, demanding to see what was happening behind it.
Cpl. Scott Seutter, a media relations officer for the B.C. RCMP, said police are trying to prevent people from seeing their methods so protesters aren’t able to come prepared with more challenging obstacles.
“If I use tool B, then someone shows up the next day with obstacle C, and I have to show up with tool D, because they’re going to show up with obstacle E. And so it just ladders up,” he said.
As officers removed a woman who had locked a bicycle U-lock around her neck and chained herself to the bottom of a van, crying could be heard and the words “She’s saying it hurts,” from behind the tarp.
Sturko, who was with the woman while she was being removed, said the tool police used started pinching her. Officers stopped, took a break and repositioned the tool, Sturko said.
The woman was wheeled away seated on a stretcher with tears on her face. The same stretcher was used for a second woman who had locked herself to the vehicle’s door handle.
Officers cleared a short section of the road over a couple of hours. Further along, the road was blocked with more cars, tree branches, rocks and a small camp.
Beverley Joy, who was arrested at Clayoquot Sound protests, said it’s depressing that British Columbians are still fighting to protect old-growth forests nearly three decades later.
“We were promised by our premier that he would implement the recommendations of the strategic panel on old-growth, so he’s lied to us,” she said. “It’s on the NDP government. They have caused division amongst people.”
Premier John Horgan committed to implementing all recommendations in an old-growth strategic review during last fall’s election campaign, including the deferral of logging in old forests where ecosystems are at a high and imminent risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.
The work is moving too slowly for the people willing to risk arrest to ensure ancient trees remain standing.
“The trees will be dead by the time they figure out the plan. That’s just not acceptable,” said a woman who went by the camp name Panda.