In the aftermath of a court injunction that generated over 1,100 arrests in Pacheedaht territory this year, the First Nation is reiterating an earlier request, asking protestors to leave the Fairy Creek area.
A six-month court injunction prohibiting people from blocking logging or road building in the forest near Port Renfrew expired Sept. 28, and the B.C. Supreme Court denied an application from Teal Cedar Products to extend the court order for another year. The forestry company, which holds tenure over Crown land in southwestern Vancouver Island, had applied for an extension to continue police enforcement against the blockades.
But in late September Justice Douglas Thompson denied this request, citing the infringement of civil liberties over the half year of police enforcement around Fairy Creek, an area considered to be one of the few watersheds on Vancouver Island untouched by industrial logging. Teal Cedar’s application to extend the injunction was disputed by the Rainforest Flying Squad, a collective of old growth activists who have held blockades in the Fairy Creek area since August 2020.
“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,” wrote Thompson in his judgement. “And, enforcement has been carried out by police officers rendered anonymous to the protesters, many of those police officers wearing ‘thin blue line’ badges. 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.”
In the middle of the conflict, which has become one of Canada’s largest acts of civil disobedience, lies the Pacheedaht, a small Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation with vested forestry interests in their territory. With the Fairy Creek clash at its peak, the Pacheedaht and neighbouring Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations issued the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration in June, a document signed by hereditary and elected leaders asserting authority over their lands.
“Together we declared that from now on, our First Nations will decide what is best for our lands, our waters and our resources from the sustainment and well-being of present and future generations of Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht and Pacheedaht people,” stated Pacheedaht Chief Councillor Jeff Jones after the court injunction expired. “The PFN reiterates our previous request that all protestors vacate Pacheedaht First Nation territory and allow our community to continue with the governance and stewardship responsibilities in our ḥahahuułi (traditional territory).”
Along with the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration, the three First Nations demanded a two-year deferral of all old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran areas, time required for the communities to undertake forest stewardship management plans with their members. The provincial government quickly responded by agreeing to this two-year deferral, but protests continued through the summer out of concern that old-growth logging was occurring in other parts the region north of Port Renfrew.
“While we continue to conduct this important work, and while the old growth logging deferrals remain in effect, we respectfully reiterate our request that all protestors vacate PFN territory to allow us to conduct this work in peace,” stated Chief Jones. “We also request that the protestors take this opportunity to re-think their protesting strategy with a view to ceasing all disrespectful, damaging and illegal activities.”
Teal Cedar Products plan to appeal, but in the meantime police enforcement will be driven by complaints, said Sgt. Chris Manseau of RCMP media relations. On Oct. 1 this resulted in another three arrests after a report of people blocking workers from forestry roads into the Fairy Creek watershed.
“When police arrived, efforts were made to negotiate with the group to allow industry vehicles to pass through,” stated an RCMP press release. “Several individuals refused and three were subsequently arrested for mischief and obstruction.”
“Our numbers in the area have dropped down significantly,” said Manseau, noting that officers had been brought in from across B.C. to enforce the injunction. “Members that are now in the area are going to follow up on any complaints in the vicinity looking at their powers under the Criminal Code.”