The B.C. Prosecution Service might press criminal charges against some of the more than 400 people arrested at the Fairy Creek Watershed.
Various blockades have been in place since August 2020, as protesters try to stop Teal Cedar Products from logging in the remote area of southern Vancouver Island.
Most of the arrests have been for breaching a court injunction issued April 1, which prohibited protesters from blocking access by Teal Cedar to their licenced logging areas. The RCMP began enforcing the injunction in person on May 17 and have since arrested hundreds on civil charges. Those arrests could now be elevated to criminal court.
In a statement Monday, the prosecution service said there’s enough evidence in many cases to result in a conviction, adding there is “a strong public interest” in criminal prosecution of the civil disobedience.
This move is in response to an application Teal Cedar Products made in court June 17, requesting the attorney general to consider criminal charges. It said at the time the civil disobedience at Fairy Creek was akin to the ‘War of the Woods’ in the early 1990s.
Not only does the behaviour of the protesters undermine the rule of law in B.C., Teal Cedar claimed, it “shows contempt for the authority of the Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations” on whose territory the dispute is occurring.
Trevor Shaw, counsel for the B.C. Prosecution Service who signed the statement, suggested a case management hearing via phone for all defendants on Sept. 13.
The work of determining which cases deserve criminal charges is onerous, due to the “very large volume of police video and the way that video is currently organized,” he wrote, adding that the prosecution service is committed to working through that challenge so individual defendants will be informed of their case details in a timely fashion.
For eventual trial, Shaw proposed scheduling 10 defendants at a time, spread over two weeks per trial.
Teal Cedar said in an emailed statement the decision is a positive outcome.
“Our application seeking this decision reflects the seriousness of the ongoing illegal activity still being undertaken months after the court’s well-reasoned injunction order. The blockaders have repeatedly stated they have no intention of following the law, even after the province deferred logging in areas including Fairy Creek. The blockaders are standing against the requests of local First Nations hereditary and elected chiefs that they leave and allow responsible and lawful forestry activities to continue outside the deferred areas.”
A decision on a separate case, brought by Elders for Ancient Trees, regarding whether the RCMP’s enforcement actions are legal, is expected July 20.
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