A 68-year-old activist says “death-watch monitors” were ensuring his safety on the 23rd day of a hunger strike over old-growth logging practices in British Columbia.
Howard Breen said Saturday that he stopped drinking liquids two days earlier in a bid to pressure the province to stop all old-growth logging due to the climate crisis and that he won’t end his protest until the forests minister agrees to a public meeting.
Breen says Katrine Conroy called him and a fellow hunger striker on Friday, but refused to meet with them and other members of a group called Save Old Growth.
“It was very clear that she had no interest in a public, recordable meeting on Zoom with her chief forester, deputy minister or whoever else she wanted to bring to it. And, of course, we would have brought our climate and forests experts,” Breen said from his home in Nanaimo.
“I hung up on the minister because she was just giving me this typical line,” he said. “With the urgency that the moment requires there was no time, really, to be wasted further discussing something that was prepared to meet us halfway on.”
Breen said his two daughters are nurses and checking in on him while he maintains contact with a family doctor in Burnaby.
“Our death-watch monitors watch me while I’m sleeping and monitor me during the day if I go into unconsciousness or have a seizure or begin to hallucinate. They will alert the medical team that’s watching me.”
Conroy said she had “meaningful conversations” with Breen and fellow hunger striker Brent Eichler.
“I conveyed my distress for their well-being while listening directly to their concerns. I urged them to protect their health as we continue the important work to protect old-growth forests,” she said in an emailed statement from the Forests Ministry.
Breen called the conversation “polite,” but said other action taken by Save Old Growth, including recent blockades of bridges and major roads, points to the seriousness of the “climate emergency” linked to logging.
However, he denied some commuters were angry about the group’s tactics, saying there is widespread support for those participating in various forms of protest while risking arrest. Two people were taken into custody last week after allegedly chaining themselves to a 227-kilogram barrel placed in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island.
They want the B.C. government to stop all old-growth logging in the province.
Members of Save Old Growth are among the more than 1,000 people who have been arrested in the Fairy Creek watershed northwest of Victoria for allegedly violating an injunction against blockades.
B.C. Supreme Court has heard about 400 of them were charged with criminal contempt.
Breen said the RCMP arrested him elsewhere for other protests and that he is currently facing 12 charges, including for three times when he glued his hands to logs.
The province appointed an independent, two-person panel in 2019 to review old-growth policies and is also consulting with the public.
Conroy announced earlier this month that B.C. was working with First Nations to defer logging across more than a million hectares of old-growth forests at risk of permanent loss, an area greater than 4,100 Stanley Parks.
Camille Bains/The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2021.