New B.C. forest policy fails to defuse protests and journalists fight RCMP for access to Fairy Creek site

On June 1, the government of British Columbia released  Modernizing Forest Policy in British Columbia, an “Intentions Paper” which  attempts to address the intense protests in the province over logging of old growth forests.  The government press release includes several backgrounders, including highlights of how the policy addresses the Old Growth issue,  but environmentalists are not satisfied.  “Five ways B.C.’s new forestry plan sets the stage for more old-growth conflict” in The Narwhal explains. Stand.earth reacted with an immediate call for deferral of logging for all at-risk old growth forests, and on June 4, after company bulldozers breached protest blockades, Stand.earth repeated their call, in order to “to reduce tensions and the threat of violence or injury in Fairy Creek and keep old growth forests standing — while the province undertakes a paradigm shift for forestry rooted in Indigenous rights and consent, ecological values, and community stability.”

Protests and unions

Protests began in Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island in August 2020, explained in “The Fairy Creek blockaders: inside the complicated fight for B.C.’s last ancient forests”  (The Narwhal, March 2020) . Since then, protests have grown in size and intensity, with five people arrested on May 17, and 137 arrested by June 1.  “Three days in the theatre of Fairy Creek” in The Tyee offers a lengthly personal front line account, as does “Three weeks on the front line: The battle for Old Growth in B.C.” in Ricochet , filled with photos. The forestry workers tell their side of the bitter story, as reported by CBC, “Forestry workers and supporters from across Vancouver Island rally to denounce Fairy Creek blockades” on May 30.

 “BC’s Cynical Attack on Old-Growth Forests” in The Tyee (May 19) blames NDP Premier John Horgan for the prolonged dispute, and states that “John Horgan’s alliance with corporate and union logging interests is stalling protection for remaining ancient trees.”  The criticism stems from “A Strategy for B.C. Forests That Benefits All British Columbians”,  an article written jointly in April by Jeff Bromley, Chair of the  United Steelworkers’ Wood Council, and Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries, defending the government’s  position. In contrast, in March 2021, co-authors Andrea Inness (a campaigner at the Ancient Forest Alliance) and Gary Fiege ( president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, formerly the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada) wrote a Vancouver Sun Opinion piece , calling on the government to live up to their promise to implement the recommendations of their own Strategic Review , and stating “We can protect old growth forests and forestry jobs at the same time”. 

Protests and freedom

Amidst the heated protests, RCMP have been criticized for blocking journalists from covering the protests.  In a May 26  press release, the Canadian Association of Journalists and a coalition of news organizations released a statement, demanding  that the RCMP immediately stop applying “exclusion zones” to journalists,  so that the media can freely access protest sites, and get  close enough to record video and sound, conduct interviews and take photographs. The statement continues: “Journalists must be allowed to move freely on site, as long as they do not interfere with the execution of RCMP activities. This means that journalists should not be corralled or forced to move as a group or with a police escort;  The equipment of journalists must not be seized or otherwise interfered with, and journalists should not be arrested or detained while trying to document protest events.”

Members of the journalists’ coalition are: the Canadian Association of Journalists, Ricochet Media, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, The Discourse and IndigiNews. The Narwhal explanation appears in  “Enough is enough: Canadian news organizations file legal action for press freedom at Fairy Creek” ; “The Other Fight at Fairy Creek: Press Freedom” appeared in The Tyee (May 27); and “We’re taking the RCMP to Court” appeared in Ricochet.

The Women’s March was a huge success. Next up – Sustained Resistance

toronto women's march jan 2017.jpgUnionists were among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who joined in the Sister Marches for the Women’s March in Washington on January 21, 2017 .  The Canadian Labour Congress statement of “Why we March” is here  .  Unifor’s President Jerry Dias  endorsed the March and called for a “united mobilization effort” against the Trump agenda.  The March was an undeniable success,  and the Washington organizers, quoted in a Globe and Mail report,  recognized:   “This is more than a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement – to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity. ”

Jeremy Brecher of Labor Network for Sustainability tackles this issue for U.S.  labour unions in “How Labor and Climate united can trump Trump” . After cataloguing some of the worst threats under a Trump administration , he calls  for “an alliance of unions and allies willing to fight the whole Trump agenda”  and states: “Such a “big tent” needs to include unions that are not part of the AFL-CIO, such as SEIU, Teamsters, and National Education Association. Some unions may choose not to join because they are unwilling to take a forthright stand against the Trump agenda; it would be both absurd and catastrophic for that to prevent the rest of the labor movement and its allies from taking on a fight that is about the very right of unions to exist.”

The United Resistance, led by the  NAACP, Greenpeace USA, and the Service Employees International Union, is chief among these new alliances, pledging to “stand together”  on the issues of civil rights, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, social equality, action on climate change, public health and safety, public dissent, and access to information. Their inspirational video is here , as well as a list of the alliance members. The AFL-CIO is not listed as a member of the United Resistance, though their recent blogs oppose Trump’s nominees, and they promoted the Women’s March.   For more about the United Resistance, see  “More than 50 Organizations Launch United Resistance Campaign as Trump’s Cabinet Hearings Begin”  in Common Dreams (Jan.10).

In a second article , SOCIAL SELF-DEFENSE: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism ,  Jeremy Brecher borrows a term from the Solidarity movement in Poland 40 years ago, and takes a larger, more global focus.  He writes that “Social Self Defense includes the protection of the human rights of all people; protection of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; and global cooperation to provide a secure future for people.”  “Social Self-Defense is not an organization – it is a set of practices to be engaged in by myriad organizations, hopefully in close coordination with each other.”  Although the article highlights a number of examples, such as the growing Sanctuary movement in the U.S.,  and case studies of alliances, including  Vermont Labor Council Initiates Social Self-Defense ,  the overriding impact is to emphasize the scale of the task: “These actions appear to be on the way to being the greatest outpouring of civil resistance in American history.”