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Fairy Creek update: RCMP play waiting game with determined protesters

South Island old growth logging protesters not blinking at criminal charges
RCMP officers wait for protesters in tripods, sleeping dragons and coffins to voluntarily remove themselves. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

The blockades on logging roads in the Fairy Creek Watershed are about to mark one year (Aug. 9) of working to prevent licence-holder Teal Cedar from logging old-growth trees. Arrests have topped 500, and the standoff north of Port Renfrew on southern Vancouver Island does not show signs of resolving.

Judging by the number of people still at camps, the ‘catch and release’ arrests are not a deterrent. RCMP report that at least 39 people have been arrested more than once, but the majority are fresh offenders.

Week after week, RCMP officers come from throughout the province to enforce the injunction. But for every camp the RCMP evacuates, forest defenders establish another one within days. In late July, forest defenders pushed past a police line at Waterfall Camp and established a new area of hard blocks they’ve called Ewok Village. They trapped one huge excavator, four police trucks and a police van between the two blockades.

Two recent court rulings have potential to change the terms of engagement, but so far there’s been minimal impact. On July 19 the B.C. Prosecution Service announced it’s considering pressing criminal charges against people arrested on civil charges for defying the injunction order. The next day in a separate court room, Justice Douglas Thompson said the RCMP was wrong to restrict access so strictly using exclusion zones, noting the injunction called for continued public access.

A week later Black Press Media visited the blockades. A two-hour wait at a checkpoint staffed by police and private security contractors hired by Teal Cedar was followed by an escorted eight-kilometre uphill trek to the blockades.

A member of the RCMP’s division liaison team – a department meant to help people protest safely – said there was an operation ongoing at the camp and blasting work somewhere in the woods. It was up to the watch commander up the hill to grant media access.

Black Mamba, 33, is an electrician from Revelstoke. She came to the protests on vacation time in mid-June. She went back to work, but felt strongly she needed to be at Fairy Creek, so she quit her job to return to the woods. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

READ MORE: Behind the line at Fairy Creek: Inside B.C.’s old growth forest battleground

“We have your media credentials, we have no problem granting you access, but we just have to make sure things are safe,” he said. He and another DLT member took a passenger up to camp – a member of some chamber of commerce – but would not allow the journalist to follow.

“If it’s safe for you to drive up, can’t I just follow in my car?” the journalist asked.

“I’m not going to negotiate with you. You can wait here for us to come back, we have to go up and take care of some business,” the watch commander said, gesturing to the man being escorted, “and then we’ll come back and deal with you.”

Two hours later, whatever business they had was taken care of, the watch commander allowed Black Press to drive to the protest camp, where the mood was peaceful.

Police allowed greater access throughout the camp, where previously observers and media were cordoned off behind police tape. One person had earlier been arrested after removing themselves from a tripod structure.

Allegations of physically aggressive arrests at Waterfall the week before faded with an RCMP crew change, protesters said. The new crew played good cop to the previous week’s bad cop.

Instead of bringing power tools to extract forest defenders who have locked themselves into physical hard blocks, watch commander Sgt. Carl Vinet’s crew conducts wellness checks. They are waiting and watching for the individuals to remove themselves voluntarily.

This protester, who goes by Fleece, is from Victoria. She's been coming up to the Fairy Creek Watershed blockades since Sept. 2020. Here she's been in a 'coffin' hard block – a trench about five feet deep – for a couple of days, she estimated. She's wearing an adult diaper, has food water and a book, but her arm was starting to swell in the pipe she'd locked into. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

It can take hours to forcibly remove someone from the inventive locking devices. They’re specifically designed to be dangerous for police to intervene – such as a boulder perched precariously overhead, or the two people who laid under a police vehicle and locked themselves around the wheel.

But how long can a person stay stay still with their arm locked into a PVC pipe and wearing an adult diaper? Arms begin to swell in the locks, and eventually the defenders opt to remove themselves. Then RCMP pull out the handcuffs.

One Victoria woman who goes by the camp name Fleece said she’d been in a hard block called a coffin for a couple of days. She had blankets, food, water, a shade tent and a book – Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The ‘coffin’ is a five-foot-deep trench dug into a logging road with a cement-lined lock at the base for a protester to fasten their wrist, threading their arm through a PVC pipe. Fleece wasn’t sure how much longer she could last.

The situation in the woods is a staring contest, and no one’s blinking.

RELATED: Fairy Creek old-growth protests hit 500-arrest mark

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