Old-growth protesters gather at legislature as minister says forestry change coming

·4 min read

VICTORIA — Forest reform legislation is set to be introduced this fall by the New Democrat government, but the promise of change can't come soon enough for old-growth logging protesters who gathered outside Premier John Horgan's office Monday.

Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said Monday the legislation the government will introduce intends to bring changes to the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Forestry Act, but she couldn't guarantee the new laws will end protest actions such as the friction at Fairy Creek over old-growth logging.

"We're going to do this and we're going to do this right," she said in an interview. "It's about our forestry, significant changes."

Conroy could not provide details of the changes but said it goes beyond the issue of old-growth logging and relates to forest workers, communities and Indigenous groups.

"I hope that people will see we are moving forward," she said.

A spokesman for the Rainforest Flying Squad protest group said the people seated at legislature entrances were sending a message to the government on the first day of the fall sitting over deep concerns about old-growth logging.

More than 1,100 people have been arrested this year for breaching a court injunction while protesting logging of old growth in the area north of Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. A judge refused to extend the injunction last week.

"We are essentially bringing the front lines to the legislature to put the onus on government to protect the old-growth forests," said group spokesman Robert Arbess, as he sat outside the premier's office at the legislature.

Arbess said the government needs to move quickly to address the old-growth issue.

"We're trying to get the premier's attention to let him know that 1,100 people were not arrested for nothing."

Some people seated on steps outside Horgan's office were dressed in costumes that resembled trees and protesters brought along a large slice of an old-growth tree that they said was 1,200 years old before it was brought down.

Old-growth protesters weren't the only people with concerns about the policies of the B.C. government.

A group of about 75 people opposed to fracking of natural gas in northern B.C. and government subsidies to the industry held a rally at the legislature's front lawn.

"It must end now," said Dr. Melissa Lem, president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. "Let's send the legislature a message."

Supporters of the conservation group Pacific Wild also showed up at the legislature to deliver a petition to government with more than 500,000 signatures opposing the province's wolf cull program to protect endangered caribou.

New Democrat house leader Mike Farnworth said the government has a full agenda and will introduce finance, environment and family legislation in the coming weeks.

Most of the 87 seats in the chamber were full Monday for the first question period, following a safe-return protocol after recent sessions were largely held online with limited seating in the chamber.

The Opposition Liberals and Greens focused on the government's response to the ongoing illicit opioid crisis during Monday's question period.

"It's getting worse. It's not getting better," said interim Liberal leader Shirley Bond.

"(The premier) needs to fix the ministry that he created to make sure that we don't stand in the house month after month talking about record numbers of lives lost in this province," Bond said of the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe released statistics last month that show almost six people died from illicit drug overdoses every day in July.

Horgan replied that the province faced a parallel health crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose deaths, but the government's "harm reduction policies are the foundation of success."

Bond said more than 6,000 people have died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. since the government created the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in 2017.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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