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RCMP face proposed class action lawsuit over Fairy Creek enforcement

Proposed suit filed by two people who attempted to document the protests, who allege RCMP enforcement of the injunction violated the charter rights of members of the public, media and protesters.
RCMP officers and members of their extraction team lift a protester as police enforce the injunction against Fairy Creek old-growth logging protesters in June 2021. Norman Galimski

A proposed class action lawsuit has been filed by two people who attempted to document the protests against the logging of old growth forests at Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew in 2021.

Arvin Singh Dang, a professional photographer and teacher, and Kristy Morgan, owner of a media production company, are suing the Attorney General of Canada, alleging that RCMP policies and tactics in enforcing an injunction order at the Fairy Creek logging protest camp violated the charter rights of members of the public, media and protesters.

“This action is brought to uphold the charter rights and fundamental freedoms of the public and to hold the RCMP accountable for its unlawful and egregious conduct in relation to its enforcement activities in Fairy Creek,” says the civil notice of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

The RCMP made 1,100 arrests from May 2021 to February 2022 after logging company Teal Jones obtained an injunction against protesters trying to block roads and prevent the cutting of old-growth trees at Fairy Creek. Only 425 of the arrests were prosecuted, primarily for criminal contempt charges.

The statement of claim alleges the RCMP “herded” individuals into exclusion zones and blocked access to forest service roads in the injunction area.

Protesters and media were subjected to arbitrary searches and their belongings and equipment were destroyed. Members of the media were blocked or prevented from reporting on events, says the claim.

RCMP officers detained and arrested people without due process and assaulted, pushed, dragged and pepper-sprayed protesters, sometimes ­removing their COVID masks to do so, says the claim.

Officers placed people in police vans at the side of the road and in holding cells for hours, without due process, says the claim. They transported the arrested individuals to jails hours away from Fairy Creek, then released people without any explanation or charges.

David Wu, a lawyer at Arvay Finlay LLP, predicts the class action will affect hundreds of people. “We’re seeking redress for people who were impacted by those exclusion zones. They should be rightfully compensated for having their constitutional freedoms infringed on,” said Wu.

RCMP officers also used their powers of arrest as a form of crowd control, not because they believed someone was committing a crime or in breach of the injunction, said Wu. “We say those policies resulted in many people’s rights being infringed.”

The proposed class action may also include those who weren’t formally arrested, but who were detained or blocked from entering the injunction area, had their bags searched or were restricted from photographing or viewing what was happening, he said.

“We’ve heard stories of lawyers trying to get in who couldn’t or who were cordoned off or put in an area. That would be in addition to those who were arrested and not charged. We think the size of the class is quite large — at least in the ­hundreds,” said Wu.

The class action will have to be certified and will take some time, he said. “Certification is the first step and it’s hard to estimate when that’s going to happen. It depends on the schedules of everyone and how busy the courts are. I’d say we’re hoping within a year or so to have the certification step out of the way, but you never really know. It’s going to be a multi-year long process for sure.”

Dang, who was filming for the CBC, BBC and Outside magazine, was subject to the exclusion zone policy on many occasions, says the claim. Sometimes, he would not be allowed into the area. Sometimes, he would be allowed in but without his car, requiring him to hike kilometres with his equipment. He was not allowed to film the extraction of the tree-sitters.

According to the claim, Dang was arrested on May 22, 2021 and told he was being charged with civil contempt and obstruction. He was put in a jail cell at the Lake Cowichan detachment and told if he signed an agreement not to return to Fairy Creek, he would be released without charges. He was released later that evening without explanation or charges.

The RCMP say they are not commenting at this time.

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