Lawyers for several people arrested for breaching an injunction during protests over old-growth logging in British Columbia argued Wednesday that the charges against their clients and others should be stayed due to “systemic police misconduct.”
Lawyer Karen Mirsky told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson that allowing prosecutions to continue would be harmful to the integrity of justice and a stay is necessary to dissociate the court from police misconduct.
The RCMP have made close to 1,200 arrests while enforcing the injunction first granted to logging company Teal Cedar Products last April to prevent blockades set up over the last 18 months in the Fairy Creek area of southern Vancouver Island.
Members of the protest group called the Rainforest Flying Squad filed an application last month asking for a stay in proceedings against those charged with contempt of court, claiming RCMP misconduct amounts to an abuse of process.
Mirsky told the court in Nanaimo that police used unreasonable force during arrests, including using pepper spray and punching protesters. Officers seized and destroyed personal property, such as vehicles, food and shelters, without due process, she said.
Some of that property was turned over to Teal Cedar for storage, she noted.
Lawyers for the company and the Crown were expected to reply in court this week.
Mirsky said her clients aim to prove that their arrests and those of hundreds of others were “tainted by ongoing and systemic police misconduct” starting last May.
Thompson questioned the broad nature of the request for a stay against those who were arrested and charged, but not included in the application to court, saying they can apply for a stay as individuals.
“I think it’s novel to make an application on behalf of a broader class of people that might be affected by the same police conduct,” the judge said.
“I’m having difficulty with the notion of a remedy that extends to people that are not applicants.”
The court has a significant interest in how police are enforcing its injunction order, Mirsky replied, adding that she would address the judge’s questions more fully on Thursday.
Elisabeth Strain, another lawyer for several of those arrested, later argued that RCMP actions violated not only the applicants’ rights, but also the rights of others in the Fairy Creek area over several months.
Strain told the court that examples of alleged police misconduct included dangerous methods for extracting protesters from their positions, including lowering a teenage protester from a structure using a single rope tied around his waist.
She said police failed to provide another teenager who was being arrested with prescription medication.
The original injunction expired last September, and Thompson denied the logging company’s application to extend it by one year, but the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the lower-court ruling in a decision last month.
Teal Jones said in a statement at the time of the Appeal Court’s decision that more than half of the old-growth forest in the area where it is logging is already protected.
—The Canadian Press