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.