Nearly 500 people have been arrested at Fairy Creek since enforcement began in May.
According to an RCMP media release, officers arrested 16 people who were part of a larger group of individuals — some elderly — that had been escorted into the injunction area by police in order to attend a picnic at Avatar Grove on Saturday.
Of the 16 arrests, 15 were for obstruction, and one was for breaching the injunction, say RCMP. They also say another individual has been identified and is wanted for assaulting a police officer.
Eighteen trees were found cut with chainsaws and laid across the road to prevent vehicle access, according to RCMP. They say another person also was seen sitting in a tripod structure while smoking a cigarette in dry conditions.
The overall total of arrests since enforcement began earlier this year now stands at 494.
Though the RCMP say most of the most group members were cooperative while being escorted out, they remain concerned about people breaching the court-ordered injunction.
“I am gravely concerned by the new tactic by contemnors to actively breach the court-ordered injunction,” RCMP chief superintendent John Brewer said in a press release. “On top of their escalating level of violence, they are now committing these egregious safety violations by falling healthy living trees and digging trenches on the roads. It’s only a matter of time before someone, whether a fellow protester, supporter or police officer is seriously injured.”
Of the 494 total arrests, 355 were for breaching the court injunction, 109 for obstruction, five for obstruction and breaching release conditions, 10 for mischief, three for breaching their release conditions, four for assaulting a police officer, one for counselling to resist arrest and one wanted on Canada-wide warrants issued by the Canadian Border Services Agency.
The nearly 500 arrests come amid ongoing concerns about media access to the Fairy Creek Watershed.
Recently, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of a coalition of media organizations — who had submitted an application to modify an injunction — that the RCMP not interfere with media access to Fairy Creek without a bona fide operational reason.
“I exercise my discretion to make the order sought by the media consortium, on the basis that in making operational decisions and exercising its discretion surrounding the removal and arrest of persons violating the order, the RCMP will be reminded by the presence of this additional language to keep in mind the media’s special role in a free and democratic society, and the necessity of avoiding undue and unnecessary interference with the journalistic function,” Justice Douglas Thompson said in regards to his ruling, according to a press release.
The B.C. Supreme Court on April 1 granted an injunction to Teal-Jones Group following weeks of blockades by protesters and activists seeking to prevent the company from conducting old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed.
However, the BC RCMP only started enforcing the injunction on May 17 and has set up a number of checkpoints leading to the Fairy Creek watershed in an effort to control and restrict access.
Though the media has been allowed to observe enforcement of the injunction and subsequent protests, access is tightly controlled and journalists are required to register with the RCMP.
Thompson, the release notes, went on to say that the RCMP’s extensive exclusion zones and checkpoints have not been reasonably justified.
“I am not satisfied that geographically extensive exclusion zones, and associated access checkpoints, have been justified as reasonably necessary in order to give the police the space they need,” he said.
The media coalition included the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), National Observer, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Ricochet Media, The Discourse, and IndigiNews.
“This is, without question, a watershed moment in the history of Canadian press freedom advocacy,” Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said in a press releasing, adding. “The RCMP have now been told by two different courts, as well as their own oversight body, that their treatment of journalists is unacceptable in a free and democratic society. It is our hope that this latest defeat will prompt the RCMP to reexamine their approach with regards to allowing journalists to do their jobs.”