A B.C. Supreme Court judge has denied an application by forestry company Teal Jones Group to extend an injunction against efforts to block old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek area near Port Renfrew that has led to about 1,000 arrests.
Justice Douglas Thompson issued his decision Tuesday, writing: “The factors weighing in favour of extension do not outweigh the public interest in protecting the Court from the risk of further depreciation of its reputation. It is not just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case to make the order sought. I exercise my discretion by declining to extend the injunction.”
An interim extension order made on Sept. 17 expired at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thompson wrote in his decision.
Thompson wrote that denying the extension application could lead to the possibility of serious harm to the company and damage to the rule of law.“On the other hand, 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,” he wrote.
“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.”
Thompson also criticized the protesters’ methods for blocking roads, noting they have become “more extreme” over time. He described trenches dug eight feet deep into the roads and tripods built up to 30 feet high where protesters suspend themselves.
The Teal Jones Group said in a statement they are reviewing the decision and will consider options.
“Our work in Tree Farm Licence 46 is important and responsible, vital to sustaining hundreds of jobs in the province and producing products we all rely on every day,” the company said.
Lawyer Steven Kelliher, who represented defendant Robert Arbess, said the decision means it’s now up to the political realm, rather than the courts, to determine how or if enforcement measures should continue. He said RCMP have previously been reluctant to engage with matters of civil disobedience without an injunction.
“I think it’s important here that the enforcement issue now resides where it belongs,” he said. “If the political actors take these decisions, they can expect the benefit of public reaction, and they’re subject to the ballot box.”
Kelliher said Teal Jones “went to great lengths” in court to say, without an injunction, they could not log old-growth forests in Tree Farm Licence 46.
“So if you take them at their word, that would seem to be that if the attorney general does not direct the RCMP to continue their enforcement duties in the absence of the injunction, then there would likely be no old-growth logging in Fairy Creek,” Kelliher said.
Saul Arbess, a spokesperson for Elders for Ancient Trees, said “we’re elated and very encouraged” by the decision. He noted the decision was highly critical of the actions of RCMP officers, something protesters have been sounding the alarm about for months.
Arbess said it’s too early to say what the decision means for people blockading roads to prevent logging of old growth, but it’s unlikely they’ll be leaving any time soon because Teal Jones retains its authority to log in areas where it has government approval.
“To keep coming back to the point that’s so important, is that the government of British Columbia’s total failure to enter into this and to resolve it in a way that can work for parties. They have remained mute throughout,” he said.
Kathy Code, a spokesperson for the Rainforest Flying Squad, echoed Arbess, saying, “This is a major victory for us, but the trees still aren’t protected.”
It remains unclear what the decision means for the RCMP presence in the area, which has been near constant since mid-May when officers began enforcing an injunction issued April 1.
Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, a senior media relations officer for the B.C. RCMP said in an email Tuesday evening: “We have to assess the situation and look at our role moving forward. I may have more to add tomorrow but that is all I can say at this point this evening.”
RCMP officers have made 1,101 arrests as of Monday.