Fairy Creek old-growth activists are worried the RCMP will move into protest camps and make arrests with impunity while denying media and other legal observers the ability to scrutinize their enforcement of an injunction order on southwestern Vancouver Island.
On Monday morning, the RCMP launched the first phase of operations to enforce a court injunction involving protesters who have been blocking access to various stands of ancient rainforest for more than eight months within the Teal-Jones tree farm licence (TFL) 46 near Port Renfrew.
Police have set up a “temporary access control area” to begin enforcement of the court order, RCMP said in a statement issued Monday.
The temporary measure will limit entry into the region to ensure Teal-Jones can commence and complete its operations in the region, RCMP said.
But the police are in fact creating exclusion zones — also employed during the Wet'suwet'en conflict last year — said Kati George-Jim, spokesperson for the Rainforest Flying Squad (RSF), the grassroots coalition organizing the blockades.
The move effectively criminalizes, or limits access, for individuals including media or legal observers who would offer public scrutiny as the injunction is enforced, said George-Jim, also known as xʷ is xʷ čaa.
The need for observers is critical given the protesters vulnerable to police violence are situated in a very remote area without any cell service, George-Jim told Canada's National Observer via a poor satellite phone connection Monday.
“The public side of this story is not going to be shared as widely as it could be,” said George-Jim from the RFS Caycuse camp.
“There’s an exclusion zone because the police are afraid of showing the type of force that they're going to use in order for industry to go back to work to clearcut old growth,” she said.
The RCMP exclusion zone also violates the injunction, issued at the beginning of April, that allows for peaceful protest without the threat of arrest as long as the Teal-Jones’ logging activities are not impeded, she said.
Liaison officers who showed up at the Caycuse camp at noon on Monday had not provided any clarifying information about observers' access to blockade areas or protecting those already present from arrest, George-Jim said.
Officers told individuals at the blockades they had 24 hours, until Tuesday morning, to exit the camp, she said.
“But they could come at any time,” she said, noting officers had not made any moves into the camps as of 1:30 p.m. Monday.
The RCMP have set up two check points that block access into the region from either Port Renfrew or Cowichan Lake, she added.
People from the camps inside the control area have been able to leave but not return.
The purpose of the control area is to prevent any escalation of the protest and to allow RCMP to maintain the safety of people accessing this area, given the remoteness and road conditions, police said.
Anyone trying to enter the control area will need permission from the RCMP operations commander or assigned delegate and provide reasons for entry and identification, the RCMP statement adds.
However, calls by the National Observer to the RCMP to determine where and how to gain permission to the control area were not returned as of late Monday afternoon.
Members of the Pacheedaht or Ditidaht nations or their elected and hereditary leaders, along with government officials, journalists, registered lawyers and medical doctors, may potentially be permitted to enter the region, RCMP said.
But how the RCMP defines recognized media outlets is not clear, and any journalists allowed entry must be accompanied by a police handler.
“Reasonable efforts will be made to provide recognized media outlets access to the enforcement area,” the RCMP statement said.
A protest area will be set up for protesters and observers in the injunction area but outside the control area where at least some of the camps are located.
The RCMP did not provide any description of the geographical parameters of the control area in the statement.
However, anyone believed to have breached the injunction order or refusing to leave the control area will be arrested, RCMP said.
The RFS issued a public letter to RCMP advising the force of the squad's commitment to peaceful protest and following COVID-19 protocols.
"We would appreciate and expect reciprocal treatment on your part," the RFS said.
It asked RCMP to exclude officers that the group had identified as "heavy-handed" from participating in enforcement of the injunction and to not target Indigenous members of the blockade.
The RFS said it hoped the RCMP had learned lessons from the Wet’suwet’en and the Trans Mountain pipeline blockades, and that officers would respect that many individuals at the sites would not be violating the injunction order and thus should not be subject to arrest.
George-Jim declined to say how many people were already present at the blockade camps, but said most had been involved with the movement for some time.
The members already in the camps subject to enforcement are ready and feeling empowered, she said.
"People on the ground and supporters won't be deterred by the threat of RCMP enforcement," George-Jim said, adding more and more people want a different system of land management that isn't rooted in colonialism and misinformation from government and industry.
"There will only be growing support for a vision outside of what exists right now, and that old-growth logging needs to stop."
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer
Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer