Public concern over climate change should play a large part in deciding whether a British Columbia forestry company is granted an extension to an injunction against protests over the logging of old-growth forests, a court heard Wednesday.
The B.C. Supreme Court must weigh the importance to the environment that protecting old-growth trees plays in the Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island as opposed to considering the economic interests of Teal Cedar Products Ltd., which has applied for a one-year extension to the injunction, lawyer Steven Kelliher said.
Almost 1,000 people have been arrested in the area north of Port Renfrew since May, when the RCMP started to enforce an earlier B.C. Supreme Court injunction against blockades erected in several areas near logging sites, The Canadian Press reports.
“Could the public interest be more heavily engaged than (about) this issue before you today?” Kelliher asked. “It is a matter of considerable public interest.”
Kelliher said he represents Victoria landscaper Robert (Saul) Arbess, who is opposed to the extension of the injunction on grounds that logging of old-growth trees in the Fairy Creek area harms the environment. He said the battle to protect the old-growth forests of Fairy Creek is connected to the global fight against climate change.
The people of B.C. experienced the effects of climate change in recent months, with a deadly heat dome that produced record high temperatures, raging wildfires across much of the province, and a fire that destroyed the community of Lytton, Kelliher said.
Old-growth forests, like the trees in Fairy Creek, store large amounts of carbon, protect numerous species of plants and animals, and prevent floods and landslides, he added.
“This is the magnitude of issues that constitute the public interest in this case,” said Kelliher. “These are interests of our life and safety today. Yes, laws have to be enforced, but law enforcement is subject to other values.”
Teal Cedar lawyer Dean Dalke told the court Tuesday the blockades are impeding the company’s legal rights to harvest timber and alleged that the actions of protesters pose dangers to employees and the RCMP.
He asked the court to “restore law and order on southern Vancouver Island,” where he said protests against logging have become more sophisticated and organized. Dalke argued “anarchy” will result if the extension is not granted.
The court also heard submissions Wednesday from lawyers representing six people opposed to the injunction extension. They argued the company and the RCMP have overstepped their authority at Fairy Creek.
“This is really about the rule of law and what kind of country we want to be as we move forward in the climate crisis,” said lawyer Patrick Canning.
Canning, representing blockade supporters Kathleen Code, Carole Toothill, and Indigenous Elder Bill Jones, said Teal Cedar has hired tow truck operators to remove vehicles legally parked along public roads near the protest sites. The owners must pay C$2,500 to retrieve their vehicles from an impound lot and are told they could be held liable in further court action, he said.
“We submit this is an experiment,” said Canning. “It’s happening under the cover of this court injunction.”
The RCMP has applied to the court to extend search and access powers in the injunction area.
Lawyer Matthew Nefstead told the court he represented three members of the protest group Rainforest Flying Squad, who oppose the injunction application on grounds that allege the RCMP’s enforcement actions in exclusion zones are unlawful.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 15, 2021.