Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF) members and supporters staged a highly visible protest this week, after six people were arrested Sept. 9 for defying a court order against blockading a controversial cutblock on the slopes of Mount Elphinstone.
Staff Sgt. Vishal Mathura, Sunshine Coast RCMP detachment commander, was among the officers who arrived at the “protection camp” around 9 a.m. last Friday morning.
“After reading out the injunction and giving the protesters numerous attempts to remove themselves from the road, there were still protesters who were on the road, so we had to arrest them,” Mathura said.
“We [the RCMP] don’t take sides. We’re not on the side of the protesters, we’re not on the side of the companies, but we’re bound to obey the directions of the court.”
The arrests followed a failed attempt by ELF’s lawyer to have an interim injunction lifted. The injunction was granted to Peninsula Logging in late August, after the company claimed it had, and would continue to, suffer “loss and damages” if it wasn’t able to carry out the falling it had a legal right to undertake after winning a BC Timber Sales (BCTS) auction for block A87125. It was an ex parte decision, meaning ELF was not advised in advance and its lawyer couldn’t make a submission to the Vernon judge who issued the injunction.
One demonstrator, who gave the name Salamander, stymied RCMP by attaching herself to a hydraulic line on an excavator using a bike lock around her neck, and only allowing herself to be handled by a female officer. She was eventually taken into custody with the rest after the hydraulic line was disconnected.
Sechelt elder Willard Joe, a stalwart supporter of ELF’s goals, was threatened with arrest, but decided to voluntarily withdraw from the blockade to avoid a confrontation.
“I hope that in the future, instead of everybody knocking down everything, that they would consult with the First Nations on what they want to do, and if they can do it,” said Joe, who added that he has some sympathy for the loggers who are just trying to do a job and feed their families.
RCMP have since confirmed all six of the protesters who were arrested have been released from custody. They’ll be required to appear in court Sept. 26, when the hearing on making the injunction permanent is also scheduled. Police say there are no criminal charges pending against anyone at this stage, and it remains a civil case.
ELF’s Hans Penner was one of the first arrested. Four days later, on Tuesday morning, he joined about 75 people at the intersection of Highway 101 and the B&K Logging Road for a demonstration designed to draw attention to what’s been happening further up the mountain.
The company is due to start road building, and Penner told Coast Reporter that he can‘t predict if more people will be arrested.
“We don’t know for sure about that,” Penner said. “There’s a lot of independent people in the camp, and opposing the logging, and we don’t know exactly what they will do.”
Another ELF member who was arrested on Sept. 9, Laurie Bloom, was also at Tuesday’s protest. “Do I think it accomplished anything, being arrested? Well, I hope it did. It’s sort of a last effort to make our voices heard. Civil disobedience is an important function in a democracy. I think that it opens up the conversation. It lets our government know there are policies, maybe laws, that need to be changed and that communities are not being listened to,” Bloom said.
Bloom, Penner and ELF’s Ross Muirhead are the only people singled out by name in the injunction.
One of the short-term goals of the blockade was to buy time for a Forest Practices Board investigation of a complaint filed by ELF on the basis that the area around what’s known as the Twist and Shout Forest is a blue-listed ecosystem, which would qualify it for protection.
Penner said the Sept. 12 tour of the cutblock with an independent biologist and others went well, but it could be weeks or even months before the findings are released.
“We don’t know the results, but I know one thing. They were all impressed with the forest itself,” Penner said. “Unfortunately the Forest Practices Board doesn’t have the authority to issue orders or stop logging in progress, but they report directly to government.”
In June, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board passed a motion that read, in part, “[The SCRD] does not support logging within the 1,500-hectare area identified in the Roberts Creek Official Community Plan Bylaw No. 641, Map No. 2 as an area for ecological and recreational protection.” That area includes cutblock A87125.
Mark Lebbell, Roberts Creek director at the SCRD, published a statement about the situation Tuesday on his blog robertscreekmark.com. “Once again, provincial forest policy has led to confrontation in the woods above our community,” it says.
Lebbell notes that the SCRD board “is committed to local input on local resource issues. First Nations are fundamental participants in land use decisions” and that as the area’s director he plans to “advocate for change in the legislation that currently sets us up for conflict.”
The call to spare the cutblock from logging, and ELF's goal of an expanded Mount Elphinstone Provincial Park, have been supported by the Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club.
But, in Penner’s words, Peninsula Logging is now poised to harvest the cutblock “under police protection” and he expects protests to continue.
“The reason we have to carry on is that if we don’t resist more there will be another block [logged] next year. We want to make this the last one,” Penner said. “That’s our big message to the community and the government. If we get a positive report from the Forest Practices Board, that will go a fair way to having a moratorium on further logging on the lower slopes of Mount Elphinstone in the proposed park area.”
The last mass arrest of logging protesters was in November 2012, when three people were taken into custody for blocking crews from working in a Sunshine Coast Community Forest tenure area in East Wilson Creek.
– With files from Christine Wood