Elders for Ancient Forests recently won a court challenge against the use of police exclusion zones – yet the Royal Canadian Mounted Police continue to exclude media and protestors at will.
About 100 members of the group walked uphill, some using canes or walkers, and overwhelmed a police exclusion zone on 25th May 2021. There they joined younger protestors facing arrest as they blocked logging of old-growth forests at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.
The Elders took their biggest action to date, shortly after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) began enforcing an injunction granted to a logging company. The logging company had been prevented from building a road into Fairy Creek by another grassroots group of forest protectors since August 2020. That group, the Rainforest Flying Squad, includes Indigenous land protectors and a range of people who feel strongly that Fairy Creek, the last pristine old-growth watershed on southern Vancouver Island (outside of parks) should be protected forever. Their presence is welcomed by Elder William Jones of the Pacheedaht First Nation, whose unceded ancestral territory includes Fairy Creek.
Concerned about climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the dangerous tactics they heard RCMP were using on nonviolent protestors practicing civil disobedience, the seniors got mad, then got organized. There, they overwhelmed an ‘exclusion zone’ which the RCMP had set up to keep protestors and media far from active arrests. As 92-year-old former journalist and high school teacher, Alison Acker, described their efforts: “It is very hard to get arrested if you are an old woman. I have tried. When 40 cars full of old people went in May, the RCMP drove away as fast as possible.”
Another member of the Elders group, Jan Marshall, 67, said the group then spent the afternoon with three young women who were chained into devices known as ‘sleeping dragons’.
“In an effort to keep the loggers out, many of these young defenders spend days locked into these contraptions, or perched in the trees,” she said. “RCMP helicopters fly overhead and send down commandos on cables to remove the tree-sitters so the trees can be chopped down, or use jackhammers or excavators inches from the bodies on the ground.”
Acker said she likes to feel useful. “I cannot sit in trees or spend hours locked into the ground. But I can lie down on the road. I can walk up a hill and sit on my bottom. So that is what I do.”
The seniors have been concerned about the RCMP’s actions, including the unlawful use of ‘exclusion zones’ which are normally only used in active emergency situations, such as when a shooter is at large in a neighbourhood. So in April the group filed an application to the court, saying RCMP were overstepping the law. An oral decision was delivered on 20th July, agreeing with them. However, even the 30-page written decision, delivered on the 14th August, has not changed RCMP’s behaviour.
“Instead of acknowledging that the climate emergency is here, and we cannot continue with business as usual, government and industry are spending millions of dollars to harass and criminalize young people who are trying to protect the irreplaceable old-growth trees that clean our water and give the planet breath,” Marshall said.
“It is stunning to me that this is happening in our country. I never thought I would see this in Canada.”
Less than 2.7% of these old-growth forests remain in the Canadian province. The huge trees that grow in valley-bottom temperate rainforests on the west coast of Vancouver Island are second only to California’s redwoods in size, and are considered of global significance for carbon sequestration. Scientists also say British Columbia has the greatest biodiversity of any of Canada’s provinces or territories. Many species can only survive in old-growth forests.
© Marnie Recker: Titania, one of the giants under threat at Fairy Creek. Titania is featured on the cover of PM109.
To find out more about the Rainforest Flying Squad, and to offer immediate support them please see: