Despite a two-year deferral of old-growth logging on some parts of South Vancouver Island, arrests have continued as protesters dig in around the Fairy Creek, Caycuse and Walbran areas. In Victoria on Friday, demonstrators raised the decibel level with a mass protest at the legislature that was marred by vandalism.
The base of the towering statue of Queen Victoria along Belleville Street was covered in red paint as the demonstration wound down Friday afternoon. More than 1,500 people gathered on the legislature’s front lawn, demanding the province halt the cutting of all old growth.
Victoria police said damage to the statue was being assessed and the incident is under investigation. Organizers of the event said they were disappointed by the vandalism
One activist scaled the 30-metre sequoia next to the statue to unfurl a banner.
Veteran Canadian singer/songwriter Valdy provided music and poetry, including the spoken verse: “We don’t kill our elders; we gotta leave them to breed some more.”
What demonstrators are calling the “new war in the woods” is showing no signs of abating.
Despite an announced two-year deferral on old-growth logging — requested by the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations and approved by the provincial government this week — protesters say there still important old-growth ecosystems in the forest at risk of falling to the chainsaw.
The deferral stops logging on 2,034 hectares in the Fairy Creek Watershed and Central Walbran areas as First Nation groups determine a stewardship plan.
However, Surrey-based Teal Jones Group confirmed operations have shifted to other areas, and crews continue to cut trees, including some larger ones — although the company is abiding by provincial standards for what is considered a protected tree, said a spokesman.
Teal Jones did not provide the number of fallers, construction personnel and other contractors currently working on its tree farm licences, but said all work in the deferred areas has stopped, including road building.
Elected and hereditary leaders of the three First Nations have told protesters not to interfere with logging operations in other approved cut-blocks, but several Indigenous elders and youth are defying those orders, questioning their leadership and giving the wider protest movement continued momentum.
Victor Peter, 19, was introduced by organizers of the legislature protest as the next and “rightful” hereditary chief of the disputed logging areas. “Thanks for supporting old growth,” he told the crowd in a brief speech. “I’m here to protect my territory and represent my culture.”
There are an estimated 100 full-time protesters at several camps, mainly at Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. But there are up to six other smaller camps that are occupied at various times. Weekends bring many more demonstrators, up to 500 on a single day last month.
The regulars say they aren’t budging.
“I just came from the camps and nobody’s backing down,” the Indigenous activist known as Rainbow Eyes said in an interview Friday in front of the legislature. “More people are coming every day. They’re cutting down ancient trees right now.
“They say they won’t cut down any more ancient trees, but they’re lying.”
The RCMP arrested eight people on Thursday at Fairy Creek for breaching the Supreme Court injunction Teal Jones Group won, including one activist who was removed from a large tripod structure.
RCMP said specially trained officers were brought in to take the man down, and they used a backhoe to brace and dismantle the “unstable” structure to make the arrest.
Since enforcement began in early May, the RCMP have arrested 206 people, at least 10 of whom were previously arrested. Of the total, 165 were cited for breaching the injunction and 41 for obstruction.
The Rainforest Flying Squad, the main organizers of blockades in the woods, said RCMP used a front-end loader to remove a fire and a roadblock of wood and rocks on a logging road at Fairy Creek. They also arrested three activists with chained hands inside metal pipes.
The group, on its 308th day at Fairy Creek and other camps, said RCMP arrived in 23 vehicles Friday in Waterfall Camp at Fairy Creek.
Several protesters who are driving out of the disputed areas are also feeling a financial pinch as Teal Jones has contracted a towing company to remove vehicles from some logging roads.
The company said it has been removing vehicles parked in “direct contravention of the injunction [and] identified by RCMP as being illegally parked.”
The cost to get those vehicles back is $2,500, a company spokesman said, reflecting the expense of towing out of a remote area, storage and security, and the “damage done to Teal Jones.”
Teal Jones did not say how many have been towed since enforcement began. “In some cases, vehicle owners have removed their tires, positioned their vehicle at a narrow point, and taken other steps to hinder access and make removal as difficult as possible,” the company said.
At the legislature, First Nations youth sang and drummed, and elders called on Premier John Horgan’s government to immediately stop all old-growth logging, saying only 3% of the old trees remain.
Valdy, 75, said he didn’t hesitate to make the trip from his Salt Spring Island home to lend his voice. The singer, whose real name is Paul Valdemar Horsdal, said he remembers protesting in the Clayoquot area in the 1990s, then losing a gig a few days later in the resource town of Port Alberni.
In Nanaimo on Friday, Helena Kreowska was on the 10th day of a hunger strike until old-growth is protected at Fairy Creek.