‘We are very proud’ of Mounties who enforced Fairy Creek injunction: union president

'We are very proud' of Mounties who enforced Fairy Creek injunction: union president
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RCMP arrest a protester at the Fairy Creek blockades, north of Port Renfrew.

A day after a B.C. Supreme Court justice denied an extension to the injunction against old-growth logging protests at Fairy Creek, the head of the union representing Canada’s RCMP officers said he’s proud of his members’ approach to the conflict.

Justice Douglas Thompson wrote in his decision Tuesday that it was not “just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case” to grant an injunction extension request made by Teal Cedar Products Ltd.

He also said that methods of enforcement undertaken by RCMP at the blockades “have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties” including “impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree,” and that — as well as officers wearing controversial “thin blue line” badges — put the court into disrepute.

But in a statement issued Wednesday, National Police Federation president Brian SauvĂ© said the union was proud of officers’ “professional, thoughtful and patient approach” to enforcing the injunction “in the face of exceptional challenges, including repeated and aggressive physical, racial, and personal taunts and threats by some of the protestors.”

“In many circumstances and on many occasions over the last 133 days, they have embodied the thin blue line between order and chaos,” SauvĂ©, referencing the thin blue patches worn by officers enforcing the injunction.

“We thank them for their exemplary service and wish them all a relaxing and peaceful time at home with their families after so much time away.”

There have been more than 1,000 arrests at Fairy Creek since the original injunction went into effect in April.

Forest company Teal Cedar Products Ltd. applied for a one-year extension of the injunction during court hearings in Nanaimo earlier this month, arguing protests were impeding the company’s legal rights to harvest timber.

During the hearings, the court heard from lawyers representing the protesters who argued that people from all walks of life with environmental concerns were being treated like terrorists.

Thompson says in his ruling the methods of enforcement of the court’s order at the protest site have led to the serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties.

He says Teal Cedar and the RCMP asked the court to spend more of its “reputational capital” by issuing an order that would keep protesters at bay who may, or may not, be in breach of the injunction.

“Another available choice is to get the court out from the middle of this dispute, and let the government and police do what they will with the tools at their disposal – patrolling the roads and other lawful preventive policing measures, mobilization of the criminal law, and use of provincial laws such as the Forest and Range Practices Act,” says the ruling.

“And, if the available means of ensuring that rights lawfully bestowed by the legislature can be exercised are not adequate, there are legislative options.”

The B.C. government approved the request of three Vancouver Island First Nations to temporarily defer old-growth logging across about 2,000 hectares in the Fairy Creek and central Walbran areas, but the protests continued. Protesters known as the Rainforest Flying Squad said the old-growth forests outside of the deferred areas were still at risk of being logged.

Teal Cedar said Wednesday that it would appeal the B.C. Supreme Court decision and that it intends to continue logging in the area under its permits. The company said it will report any illegal activity to RCMP.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby said the province is currently reviewing the decision. “As there is a possibility of an appeal by any of the parties involved, we cannot comment further at this time,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, the Pacheedaht First Nation issued a statement saying elected and hereditary leaders have not yet had time to assess the impact of the ruling.

However, the First Nation reiterated earlier requests that “all protesters vacate Pacheedaht First Nation Territory and allow our community to continue with the governance and stewardship responsibilities in our hĚŁahahuuĹ‚i (traditional territories).”

“Together we declared that from now on, our First Nations will decide what is best for our lands, our waters and our resources for the sustainment and well-being of present and future generations of Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht and Pacheedaht people.”

Lawyer Phil Dwyer, who represented several members of the Rainforest Flying Squad, called the decision a “huge victory.”

“This is a very significant decision,” he said in an interview. “It’s really hard to say right now what’s going to happen on the ground out there.”

During the court hearings, a lawyer for the Mounties said police were being tasked with enforcing a court injunction under increasingly difficult circumstances.

Thompson’s ruling says the RCMP acted with “reasonable force” during much of the injunction period, but some video evidence presented during the hearings showed “disquieting lapses in reasonable crowd control.”

“One series of images shows a police officer repeatedly pulling COVID masks off protesters’ faces while pepper spray was about to be employed. Another shows a police officer grabbing a guitar from a protester and flinging it to the ground, where another officer stomped on it and kicked what was left of it to the side of the road,” he wrote.

Thompson says the RCMP’s enforcement of the injunction impacts adversely on the court’s reputation.

“The evidence before me indicates that the RCMP have now stopped searching pedestrians, but they continue to enforce exclusion zones that are more expansive than the law permits. Moreover, the media’s right of access continues to be improperly constrained.”

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