Canada: win for anti-logging protesters as judge denies firm’s injunction bid

A provincial court in Canada has refused to extend an injunction against protesters demonstrating against old-growth logging, ruling that police conduct has been so troubling that to extend the order would place the court’s own reputation at risk.

For nearly six months, activists have set up blockades to prevent the logging of old growth forests in the Fairy Creek watershed on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. More than 1,100 people have been arrested as part of the largest act of civil disobedience in recent Canadian history.

Teal Cedar Products had since April used an injunction to stop protesters from interfering with the company’s road construction and harvesting operations. But Teal’s application to have the injunction extended for another year was rejected on Tuesday by the British Columbia supreme court.

“[The] 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,” Justice Douglas Thompson wrote in his judgment released late Tuesday.

The judge acknowledged that the behavior of protesters has become “more extreme over time”– such as locking their bodies to the logging road – but officers with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have responded by beating, dragging and pepper-spraying demonstrators.

Thompson said the police showed a “disquieting lapse” in the reasonable use of force.

“One series of images shows a police officer repeatedly pulling Covid masks off protesters’ faces while pepper spray was about to be employed,” he wrote.

“Another shows a police officer grabbing a guitar from a protester and flinging it to the ground, where another officer stomped on it and kicked what was left of it to the side of the road.”

Thompson also criticized a number of officers wearing “thin blue line” patches, obscuring their faces, not wearing name badges – and for their attempts to bar media from reporting on the long-running protests.

“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,” he wrote. He also said media access to the area has been “improperly constrained” by police.

In determining whether to renew the injunction, Thompson was asked to look at the irreparable harm to the logging company’s business from protests – and the public interest.

Activist groups had previously called on the courts to recognize the value of the ancient forests when determining the public interest.

Thompson admitted that while “a powerful case might be made” for protecting towering western red cedar, Douglas fir and Sitka spruce, any ruling on that issue was likely outside of the court’s constitutional role.

While the injunction has been heralded as a win for activists, police will still have the power to arrest protestors at the blockades. Teal Cedar said it was reviewing the decision.