B.C. judge denies extension of Fairy Creek injunction against old-growth logging protesters

Police have begun arresting anti-old-growth logging protesters who refuse to leave a restricted access area set up by RCMP near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island: May 18, 2021 (CTV News)

A court injunction prohibiting old-growth logging protests on Vancouver Island will come to an end Tuesday, after a judge declined to extend the order.

British Columbia forestry company Teal Cedar Products Ltd. was seeking a one-year extension to its injunction preventing protesters from blockading forestry activities in the Fairy Creek area.

On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson denied the company’s extension request, saying the actions of the RCMP at the injunction site have put the court’s reputation at risk.

“In the current circumstances, I am not persuaded that the balance of convenience favours extending the injunction,” Thompson wrote in his decision. “The factors weighing in favour of extension do not outweigh the public interest in protecting the court from the risk of further depreciation of its reputation.”

The denial means an existing extension order prohibiting protesters from the area expires at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Thompson said that while allowing the injunction to expire could cause significant harm to both Teal Cedar and to the rule of law, “methods of enforcement of the court’s order have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree.”

“Enforcement has been carried out by police officers rendered anonymous to the protesters, many of those police officers wearing ‘thin blue line’ badges,” Thompson added. “All of this has been done in the name of enforcing this court’s order, adding to the already substantial risk to the court’s reputation whenever an injunction pulls the court into this type of dispute between citizens and the government.”

The RCMP, which has been enforcing the injunction since May, said Tuesday it was aware of the decision but did not provide further comment.

Protesters have been camped out in the area for more than a year to defend what they say is the last unprotected old-growth forest on southern Vancouver Island.

Mounties have arrested more than 1,100 people since the blockades began, including more than 100 people who have been arrested more than once.

Thompson said the methods of protesters have escalated over the summer “to the point where serious property damage has been done and risk of serious personal injury has emerged.”

The judge cited trenches dug in forestry roads and the construction of large tripods as examples of “the escalation in illegality,” adding “all parties to this application agree that interactions between police and protesters are becoming more intense.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan called the ongoing protests at Fairy Creek “intractable” during an unrelated news conference before the court decision was announced Tuesday.

“Is this an intractable problem? Yes it is,” Horgan said. “Does it frustrate me? Every single day. But I think the majority of British Columbians understand that if we are going to make progress on difficult issues, we have to do it together.” 

In June, the B.C. government approved a request from three Vancouver Island First Nations and deferred logging in about 2,000 hectares of old-growth forest in the Fairy Creek and central Walbran areas for two years.

The activist group Rainforest Flying Squad says little of the best old-growth forest remains in B.C. and the deferrals fall short of protecting what is left.