PORT RENFREW (NEWS 1130) — Safety concerns have spurred more arrests of logging protesters in southern Vancouver Island.
Protesters with the group Rainforest Flying Squad have been in the area for months, violating a BC Supreme Court injunction.
The RCMP says officers discovered 18 living trees were cut down by chainsaw and felled across the road, blocking vehicle access over the weekend at the Fairy Creek blockade.
“I am gravely concerned by the new tactic by contemnors to actively breach the court-ordered injunction,” said Chief Supt. John Brewer.
“It’s only a matter of time before someone, whether a fellow protester, supporter or police officer is seriously injured,” Brewer added.
A response provided to NEWS 1130 from the Rainforest Flying Squad states protesters did cut down the trees, but they had permission from the Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones.
“It’s not really something to make a mountain out of. It’s not a threat to the ecology. It’s okay with me. It’s not an offence to me, or anyone,” Jones wrote in a statement.
Rainforest Flying Squad also notes protesters cutting down the trees and laying them across the road, “slowed the RCMP from reaching forest defenders who were chained into structures. In fact, it enabled the group to take back 1.5 km of ground that was previously lost to RCMP at Waterfall Camp, and helped protect nearby camps.”
The RCMP says another protester was spotted smoking a cigarette.
In a release, the RCMP warns current conditions in the province means everyone needs to be mindful of the wildfire risks, and the remote location will only make it more challenging to get access to a fire if sparked.
Rainforest Flying Squad says there is a strict fire safety protocol in effect for protesters.
“Elder Bill had instructed protestors not to smoke outside of cars, and that has been re-emphasized,” the release said.
Mounties moved in again to arrest protesters over the weekend. The RCMP says 15 people were arrested for obstruction, and another person was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
This brings the total to 494 arrests, 28 of them were previously arrested.
Vancouver-based logging company Teal-Jones was granted permission by the government, along with an agreement from the First Nation, to harvest a portion of the north ridge of the 1,200-hectare watershed.
In June, the B.C. government implemented a two-year deferral of logging in that area, but protesters have remained.