Judge Rebukes Mounties’ Handling of Fairy Creek Logging Protest

This week, the Supreme Court of British Columbia refused to extend an injunction against old growth forest protests in and around Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island. But the rejection had nothing to do with logging or the actions of the protesters.

Protesting against old growth timber logging in May in the Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island, near Port Renfrew, British Columbia.Credit…Jen Osborne/Reuters

Instead, Justice Douglas W. Thompson turned down the logging company’s request because of how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have behaved while enforcing the injunction, offering a stinging rebuke of the national police force.

“I have never heard of anything like it,” Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, told me in an email. “I am not aware of any case where police misconduct has been cited as a reason to stop such an injunction.”

While Justice Thompson found that the logging company that was looking to have the injunction extended was suffering “irreparable harm” from the protests, he wrote that the actions of the Mounties in enforcing it “have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties.”

The mounted police did not immediately comment. The office of Bill Blair, the public safety minister, declined to comment.

Fairy Creek became a center of protests after the New Democratic Party of Premier John Horgan, in the view of the protesters, backtracked on a promise he made to protect old growth forests during last year’s provincial election.

While old growth logging was suspended in some areas of the province, it was continued in and around Fairy Creek until June by the lumber company Teal-Jones. The company was logging in partnership with the three First Nations whose territories include the Fairy Creek forests.

The Mounties came to the protests in large numbers and arrests began growing after the logging company, which declared this week that “it is a myth that old growth in the area is at risk,” was given an injunction in April against efforts by protesters to stop its work.

One video showed Mounties ripping Covid masks off protesters’ faces before dousing them with pepper spray.

Forest protesters contend that Premier John Horgan backtracked on a campaign promise.Credit…Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

In his decision, Justice Thompson described some actions by protesters, like digging deep trenches in roads or dangling from wooden tripods up to 30 feet high, as “examples of the escalation in illegality.” But he also concluded they were not the norm.

“The videos and other evidence show them to be disciplined and patient adherents to standards of nonviolent disobedience,” he wrote. “There have only been occasional lapses from that standard.”

By contrast, Justice Thompson found that the Mounties repeatedly eroded “the court’s reputational capital” as they went about enforcing the injunction.

In particular, he strongly criticized the Mounties’ leadership for ordering officers to remove their names and all other identification from their uniforms. The police told the judge it was a necessary move to spare them and their families from potential online harassment.

Noting that anonymity makes it effectively impossible for citizens to successfully file complaints about police misconduct, Justice Thomson wrote that the move was inappropriate for anyone in a position of authority, including judges.

“We identify ourselves,” he wrote. “Accountability requires it.”

As of Sept. 24, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the R.C.M.P. has received 230 complaints about police actions at Fairy Creek. It is investigating 93 of them.

Most of the officers at the protest also wore “thin blue line” patches on their uniforms despite a national directive banning the practice. Justice Thompson said that an Indigenous woman said in an affidavit that people in her community saw the patches, which usually overlay the line on a Canadian flag, as “as symbolic of the history of R.C.M.P. involvement in enforcing policies that brought about the genocide of Indigenous peoples.” In the United States, similar patches and flags have evolved from being a symbol of support for police into a symbol of opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Justice Thompson also found that despite an earlier court directive, the police continued to interfere with journalists reporting on the protests.

The decision of Justice Thompson is not the first rebuke of the Mounties in recent years, including the force’s handling of other protests. And Robert Gordon, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, said it is unlikely to be the last. Nor is he confident that the embarrassment it brings to the force will lead to any significant change.

“For almost 20 years ago, there’s been a series of incidents and reports and boxes full of recommendations about changing the R.C.M.P.,” Professor Gordon, who was a police officer in Britain, told me. “The bottom line is that the R.C.M.P. sees itself as the last word in policing in Canada, and is reluctant and highly resistant to engage in any kind of change other than superficial band-aiding.”

Trans Canada

Meng Wanzhou waving at a cheering crowd after arriving in Shenzhen, China, last weekend.Credit…Jin Liwang/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • The swap of Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese technology executive who was detained by Canada at the request of the United States, for the two Canadians jailed by China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, brings one dispute to a close. But Chris Buckley and Katie Benner write that “it will likely do little to resolve deeper issues including human rights, a sweeping clampdown in Hong Kong, cyberespionage, China’s threats to use force against Taiwan, and fears in Beijing that the United States will never accept China’s rise.”

  • Peter Nygard, the disgraced fashion mogul from Winnipeg, agreed on Friday to be sent to New York to face sex trafficking charges. At the same time, Toronto police said that they have a warrant to arrest him on similar charges.

  • Lido Pimienta, a Canadian-Colombian singer-songwriter whose music incorporates Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and electronic elements, is part of the first all-female team commissioned to create a piece for the New York City Ballet.

  • A Sri Lankan family that sheltered the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden after he fled to Hong Kong in 2013 has been given asylum in Montreal.

  • Canada has doubled to 40,000 the number of Afghans fleeing the Taliban that it plans to take in as refugees. If the limit is reached, it will equal the country’s effort with Syrian refugees that started in late 2015.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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