Protesters arrested at B.C. old-growth logging blockades may face criminal contempt charges

(May 18, 2021)

People arrested for breaching an injunction against old-growth logging blockades on southern Vancouver Island may face criminal contempt charges.

The BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) says it has reviewed material provided by the RCMP and logging company Teal Jones and has concluded there is “a substantial likelihood of conviction for criminal conviction in a sufficient number of cases.”

More than 445 people have been arrested while blockading forestry workers in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse watersheds. Activists have maintained roving blockades in the area to prevent the logging of ancient forests since last summer.

The BCPS told a Duncan, B.C. courtroom Monday that there “is a strong public interest in prosecuting criminally the alleged breaches of the injunction.”

A spokesperson for the Rainforest Flying Squad activist group says the BCPS is being heavy-handed but he expects some of the people who were arrested will be found guilty of criminal contempt.

“This is very disappointing because this interferes with the ability for people to justify their actions and defend themselves as to why they did what they did and when they did it,” said Rainforest Flying Squad representative Saul Arbess. “The opportunity in these cases is very limited in terms of a defence that anybody can mount for their behaviour.”

Teal Jones says the decision by the BCPS to prosecute those in violation of the injunction is a positive outcome.

“Our application seeking the decision reflects the seriousness of the ongoing illegal activity still being undertaken months after the well-reasoned injunction order,” said the Surrey-based forestry company in an email to CTV News. “The blockaders have repeatedly stated they have no intention of following the law, even after the province deferred logging in areas, including Fairy Creek.”

The statement goes on to say the blockaders are standing against the requests of local First Nations that have asked the protesters to leave and allow forestry activities to continue outside the deferred areas.

Arbess says the people defending old-growth forests should not be prosecuted as criminals. He says the people arrested by police are conducting acts of civil disobedience in an effort to protect ancient forests.

“We hope that the provincial government will move to increase the protection of these areas where 2.7 per cent of these big old trees (still exist),” said Arbess. “We know that, in our latitudes, these ancient forests are the best mechanism we have for sequestering carbon and we are taking it out.”

'THEY WILL BE CONVICTED'

The BCPS stated in court that each case will be reviewed in accordance with the service’s civil disobedience policy and previous rulings by the court. It also stated that there may be instances where a file should not be pursued criminally and in those cases Crown counsel will advise Teal Jones and provide reasons to the court in accordance with existing practices in B.C.

Arbess says he hopes that the people arrested for breaching the injunction will be acquitted because their actions to protect old-growth forests should override the legal circumstances. Despite his hope that forest defenders be absolved of criminal wrongdoing, Arbess expects those facing prosecution for criminal contempt of court will be found guilty.

“By virtue of history they will be convicted,” said Arbess. “They will be sentenced and if it’s like Clayoquot, some will do jail time as well and sometimes as more of these cases are heard the actual sentencing increases.”

Arbess says the decision by the BCPS to prosecute those people who chose to breach the injunction may reduce the number of activists at the blockades. He says those arrested for defying the injunction order should have been pursued in civil court and not as a criminal matter.

“We feel that the charges should have remained in the field of civil contempt,” said Arbess. “We feel that Teal Jones should have been responsible for the prosecutions and not the public at large and the public purse which is what will happen.”

The BCPS stated in court that the next steps in prosecution of those people arrested will be to conduct a half-day case management hearing for all current defendants on Sept. 13, 2021. The BCPS went on to state that trials would be conducted over a two-week period with 10 defendants per trail.

The BCPS will provide the court with the Crown’s general sentencing position for the various categories of defendants by Sept. 8, 2021.