A group of 19 protesters opposed to logging on the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face had a brief court appearance in Nelson earlier this month, and were told they would be resummoned before the bench, likely in August.
Seventeen of the defendants, members or supporters of Last Stand West Kootenay, face charges of civil contempt of court for participating in or observing a protest that blocked Salisbury Creek Forest Service Road in the spring. That action allegedly violated a 2019 court order, prompting the RCMP’s notorious Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) to send 30 officers to dismantle the protest camp on May 17 and arrest participants.
Two other defendants, Mick Grabowsky and Eloise Charet, were arrested June 1 in a further protest.
About 50 people gathered outside the Nelson courthouse July 19 to support the defendants, but it turned out little happened that morning.
The lawyer for the logging company, Cooper Creek Cedar, said they needed more time to serve papers to all the defendants. They also said they would apply to the court to have the Crown take over prosecution of the case, turning it from a civil contempt prosecution to a criminal one.
Lawyer Matthew Scheffelmaier asked the court to conduct a preliminary assessment of what had occurred, and to “invite” the Crown to proceed against the defendants with charges of criminal contempt.
If that request is denied, Cooper Creek Cedar could still proceed with its own civil prosecution.
Scheffelmaier and the defendants’ lawyer, Noah Ross, agreed to arrange with court administration to set a new date in August or September for that application. In less than 30 minutes, the protesters’ court appearance was over.
After the hearing, one of the defendants, Miguel Pastor, said he was confident he’d be exonerated if the Crown pursues the case.
“I do believe the Crown will hold the case to a higher standard, and won’t go ahead with pursuing the cases which were obviously unlawful for those like myself who were not blocking the road,” he says.
Civil liberties violated
Meanwhile, the BC Civil Liberties Association and seven other groups have filed a joint complaint against the RCMP for their “egregious behaviour and unlawful arrests” during the May 17 raid of the protest area at Grouse Camp near Argenta.
Noah Ross, who represented the accused at the July 19 hearing in Nelson, filed the complaint with the chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP in Ottawa, on behalf of the Argenta arrestees.
“In making these arrests, the C-IRG unit of the RCMP violated protected rights to association, assembly, expression, liberty, to participate in public affairs and freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” the complaint reads. “The arrests failed to comply with Canada’s domestic and international human rights law duties to ensure freedom from arbitrary arrests and detention that cannot be justified under the Charter or International Human Rights Law.”
The policy complaint comes with statements from more than 20 witnesses to the police raid.
The complaint asks the RCMP’s watchdog to launch a full investigation into the implementation of the exclusion zone and a series of what it called “unlawful arrests” by the RCMP at Grouse Camp on May 17.
The groups that jointly made the complaint include Last Stand West Kootenay, the Autonomous Sinixt, BC Civil Liberties Association, the Wilderness Committee, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Mount Willet Wilderness Forever, From the Hearth Kootenays and Fridays for Future Nelson.
The protesters are trying to stop the logging of 6,200 hectares of forest on the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, on the northeast shore of Kootenay Lake. The Autonomous Sinixt and Lower Kootenay Bands have both called for a halt to logging and for environmental protection for the area.
A broadly supported local group, Mount Willet Wilderness Forever, has been calling for the face to be added to the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy for several years.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice