The RCMP has spent more than $6.8 million enforcing a court injunction against anti-logging protesters camped out at Fairy Creek in B.C., which has led to nearly 1,200 arrests this year.
The document, obtained by Global News under access to information legislation, shows the majority of costs came from “personnel,” listed at nearly $4.7-million in expenses, and “transportation and telecommunications,” at around $1.4 million.
The RCMP also spent nearly $500,000 on “rentals & leases,” while “utilities, materials, & supplies” ate up another $129,753 of the budget. The costs cover April 1 to Oct. 31, 2021.
The protests at Fairy Creek, located near Port Renfrew, a coastal town on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, have been ongoing since August 2020. It has been described as “one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.”
University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach said the overall cost coupled with the images of RCMP violently clashing with protesters could push the B.C. government to reconsider how it handles approving future licences.
“When we discuss police conduct, we’re obviously concerned about its effects on rights. But we should also be concerned about value for money and cost effectiveness,” Roach said.
“When you stand back and you look at the overall picture, it doesn’t look rational and doesn’t look justified.”
Hundreds of people have been blocking the company Teal-Jones Group, under its division Teal Cedar Products Ltd., from clear-cutting 1,000-year-old trees at the watershed on the southern region of the island. The company has a licence — Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46 — which covers 59,432 hectares.
The logging activity has pitted Teal-Jones against the Rainforest Flying Squad, a coalition of activists, who have organized a series of blockades to protect the ecologically sensitive old-growth forests.
“It’s money that is obviously paid by the taxpayers and could probably have been put to better use rather than hiring a military squad to come in, and knock the heads of peaceful protesters,” said Kathleen Code, spokesperson for the Rainforest Flying Squad.
Code said a few protesters remain at the main site, but the arrests and clashes with police have “calmed down” for the winter.
“When we look at the issues that are before us in terms of climate change, in terms of the loss of biodiversity, the rights and title of Indigenous people; sending armed troops after those people is not a resolution,” she said.
Since May, RCMP officers have arrested at least 1,188 people, including over 900 for breaching the injunction (contempt of court), over 200 for obstruction, and 12 for assaulting a police officer. The RCMP’s conduct during the arrests has drawn widespread criticism, which included the arrests of journalists.
Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said enforcing a court order from the Supreme Court of British Columbia is not an “optional” invitation or suggestion.
“They are mandatory directions from the Court, and police are not at liberty to choose which law to follow,” Shoihet said. “We do not have the option of refusing to enforce Court Orders and injunctions nor can we delay that action indefinitely.”
The RCMP policing costs for Fairy Creek are comparable to the just over $13 million the Mounties spent enforcing the Coastal GasLink injunction in Wet’suwet’en territory between January 2019 and March 2020.
The RCMP’s “E Division” operating budget for the year was $1.2-billion, according to Shoihet.
However, Roach argued that just because police have a duty to enforce a court order or injunction, enforcement doesn’t have to include the infringement of civil liberties or incidents of aggressive police tactics.
“It speaks to what one of the judges said was a certain amount of overreaction by the RCMP when they’re involved with policing,” he said.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge had previously criticized the RCMP’s strong-arm enforcement tactics and declined to extend the original injunction in a ruling on Sept. 28.
“Methods of enforcement of the Court’s order have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree,” Justice Douglas Thompson wrote.
“One series of images shows a police officer repeatedly pulling COVID masks off protesters’ faces while pepper spray was about to be employed. Another shows a police officer grabbing a guitar from a protester and flinging it to the ground, where another officer stomped on it and kicked what was left of it to the side of the road.”
Thompson said the Mounties’ enforcement of the injunction has negatively impacted the court’s reputation. However, he also noted the harm to Teal-Jones by not enforcing the injunction, as the company “employs approximately 450 people within its processing and manufacturing facilities.”
If it’s unable to log the area, it may not have an adequate supply of lumber, resulting in mills shutting down and layoffs, the judge wrote.
The decision was overturned on Oct. 8 by a B.C. Court of Appeal judge who cited the potential economic harm to Teal-Jones if there were no injunction in place.
“Teal Cedar engaging in government-authorized, legal activity, unobstructed by unlawful actions. The status quo is the long‑standing injunction,” Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein wrote.
“No matter how unsavoury the protesters find Teal Cedar’s logging, their quarrel is with government policy.”
Conrad Browne, director of Indigenous partnerships and strategic relations for Teal-Jones, said the $6.8-million in RCMP costs “pales in comparison” to how much the company has spent on the Fairy Creek logging operations, but would not disclose how much it has spent.
“It’s not unusual for these kind of dollar values to float around,” Browne said. “For the general public it may seem very shocking — and it is, it’s a high number, and again it’s being incurred by government, it’s being incurred by protesters, definitely being incurred by Teal-Jones, as well as the federal government with the RCMP.
A major source of frustration and costs for the company have been the deep trenches that protesters have dug to prevent access to the logging sites, Browne said.
He also said damage to helicopter pads, and other infrastructure, by protesters have led to the increased costs.
“If you’re upholding the law and not supporting anarchy — which is what was happening out in the forest — there’s going to be an expense to that,” he said.
“Each judge all the way along has said, protesters need to take this up with the government. Not with Teal-Jones, not with the courts. They should be taking it up with the government.”
Last June, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced the province would defer old-growth logging for two years at the request of three Indigenous communities: the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations. The deferral would affect logging in Fairy Creek as well as other areas.
The issue has also been divisive for the three communities who rely on the forestry sector to generate revenue. Pacheedaht First Nations leadership, for example, have told protesters to leave, stating they weaken the nation’s sovereignty. Yet other members of the band, including many younger ones, have invited the protesters to stay.
The province’s deferral would give the three First Nations a chance to develop their own resource plans related to old-growth forests.
A two-year study released by the Ancient Forest Alliance over the summer shows old-growth forests on Southern Vancouver Island could contribute greater economic benefit to the region through tourism, carbon storage and protection of coho salmon habitat rather than harvesting the timber from ancient forests.
Meanwhile, the number of protesters at Fairy Creek have dwindled as logging activities have wound down for the winter. The RCMP would not say how many police officers are in the area for “operational reasons.”
“The RCMP continues to have a presence in the area to ensure that the roads remain accessible and unobstructed,” Shoihet said.
— with files from Kylie Stanton
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.