Police arrest seven protesters at logging blockade

Above Photo: RCMP officers move in to remove a blockade and people protesting logging of old growth forests in the Caycuse River area of southern Vancouver Island. Dave Malysheff.

Protesters say they were given 24 hours notice to leave or face arrest.

Police have arrested seven people at a logging blockade on southern Vancouver Island as they enforced an injunction Tuesday.

The RCMP promised “police action” earlier this week after announcing it is temporarily controlling access to an area around the Caycuse River south of Cowichan Lake, enforcing the April 1 injunction that allows Teal-Cedar Products to start logging activities.

Protesters have been maintaining several camps around the areas of the Caycuse River and Fairy Creek — further south near Port Renfrew, B.C. — for months.

On Monday, the Rainforest Flying Squad, whose members are among those opposed to the tree harvest, say police gave them 24 hours to leave the Caycuse area or face arrest.

After setting up a checkpoint along a forest service road leading to the Caycuse camp, RCMP officers on Tuesday converged on a series of camps to begin the process of clearing the site for forest workers.

The officers stood outside at least two protest sites and read the details of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction prohibiting the protests in the forests near Cowichan Lake and Port Renfrew.

At one of the sites, Staff Sgt. Jason Charley read the terms of the injunction and told protesters the warning was a chance for people to leave on their own terms.

“We’ll be back in 20 minutes,” he said.

Officers marched back to the camp gates, which included a large culvert pipe blocking the road and a makeshift teepee, and arrested two people, Mitchell Steinke and Val Embree.

“I came here to protect the old growth trees, simply put,” said Steinke, who had been strumming a guitar and singing songs about trees.

Vancouver Island resident Embree, a grandmother, described herself as a longtime forests protector.

Minutes later at a second camp in the Caycuse area, RCMP arrested another man and woman after removing them from a road gate to which they had chained themselves.

Police asked Rainbow Eyes and Brandon Busby if they wanted to leave the area or face arrest. Both said they wanted to be arrested.

“I feel like industry and government have put shackles around our people,” said Rainbow Eyes, an Indigenous woman from Knight Inlet. “I’m so happy to stand up for the trees.”

Police said in a news release that a fifth person was arrested after refusing to leave and all five people were expected to be processed and released by the end of the day.

CBC News later confirmed that two more people had been arrested Tuesday.

‘Measured approach’

RCMP Const. Alex Berube said officers would take a “measured” approach to enforcing the injunction so no one is hurt.

Teal Jones vice-president Gerrie Kotze has said logging plans for the Fairy Creek watershed have been “mischaracterized” because trees can’t be cut in most of it. Harvesting is only planned for a small area far from the San Juan River, he said last month.

Opponents of logging say the area is one of the last unprotected, intact, old-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island.

In April, the Pacheedaht First Nation asked activists to stand down and leave the community to decide how to use local forestry resources.

But on Tuesday, Indigenous elder Bill Jones from the nearby First Nation thanked those who came to oppose logging in his peoples’ traditional territories.

“The hills will be bald in two years if we don’t stop this,” said Jones, acknowledging many members of his nation do not agree with him and instead support the financial gain that logging brings.

“We are here to save our great Mother’s gift to us, our old growth.”