The B.C. Supreme Court heard Thursday from lawyers who say peaceful protesters with concerns about protecting old-growth trees from logging on South Vancouver Island are being treated like terrorists by the police and forestry company Teal Jones.
The lawyers represent about half a dozen people who oppose a court application by Teal Cedar Products Ltd. to extend a B.C. Supreme Court injunction order against old-growth logging blockades in the Fairy Creek watershed area until late September 2022.
Teal Cedar lawyer Dean Dalke told the court Tuesday the blockades are impeding the company's legal rights to harvest timber and alleged the protesters' actions pose dangers to employees and the RCMP.
Over 1,000 people have been arrested just north of Port Renfrew since mid-May when the RCMP began enforcing the injunction. Eleven were arrested on Thursday alone.
Thursday marked the third consecutive day of hearings related to RCMP enforcement at the blockades.
Police terrorizing protesters, says lawyer
Nanaimo lawyer Elizabeth Strain argued that police were intentionally terrorizing protesters.
"There are [people] who've put themselves in terribly dangerous situations … because they are terrified for their future," she said, "and they're being met with militarized, aggressive force."
She showed the court videos and photographs of police allegedly unsafely removing protesters from trees and ditches, and pulling off the face masks of protesters before dousing them with pepper spray.
She argued that in one video, RCMP had not ensured the physical protection of a protester before using a chainsaw mere inches from the protester's face.
"This is bringing the administration of justice into disrepute," she proclaimed. She also showed evidence that some police had allegedly been wearing a thin blue line on their uniforms, which has racist symbolism to many communities.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson responded that the protesters appear to be using sophisticated tactics to make enforcement difficult for the police.
RCMP lawyer argues videos aren't sufficient evidence
Donnaree Nygard, an Attorney General of Canada lawyer, on behalf of the RCMP, said the police are, on the whole, acting lawfully to enforce the injunction.
Her application to the Court asks for the injunction order to be varied to give police more power to control access to the injunction area. It also asks that police have the power to search those who wish to enter the injunction area, along with searching their vehicles, and to deny access to those who refuse to be searched.
Nygard argued that a ruling against extending the injunction based on evidence presented by the other lawyers would be insufficient, given the true magnitude of enforcement.
"You simply don't have the necessary record to make those conclusions," she told the judge, explaining that certain camera angles make it difficult to capture the full scenarios.
She said "it's not surprising that ... with that size [and] numbers of arrests ... there will be errors in judgment made by the RCMP," but that it was up to other bodies — such as the RCMP Complaints Commission and the B.C. Independent Investigations Office — to respond to complaints about police enforcement, and not the court.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson said he was concerned that those independent investigations would take too long, and that it's clear to him "something is not working" when it comes to enforcing the injunction order.
The hearings are expected to wrap up Friday.
Thompson said due to the scale of the situation he expects to make final decisions after Sept. 26.