Kimberly Murray faces a difficult dilemma after her vehicle was towed during an RCMP raid of the Fairy Creek old-growth blockades on Vancouver Island in early August.
Aside from questions about whether the car was legally impounded, given it was parked outside the RCMP temporary exclusion zone off to the side of the road on Aug. 9, Murray is facing a $2,500 fee to get it back.
Murray says she could shoulder the hefty sum to retrieve her Range Rover — but she doesn’t dare.
The company hired by logging company Teal-Jones to impound the vehicles is informing people retrieving their cars that they must also provide personal information, such as email, phone numbers and their legal name, information which then might be used to sue them for costs associated with the blockade, Murray said Wednesday.
“So, I haven't paid it yet because I'm not willing to put my name up to be sued for damages for something that I haven't done,” Murray said, adding she supports the old-growth defenders, but has never taken part in actively defying court orders and blocking logging activity in tree farm licence (TFL 46) near Port Renfrew.
What’s more, witnesses on scene say her car was actually towed back into the exclusion zone near the blockade before being taken to the impound lot in Port Renfrew.
Murray’s experience and those of other protesters are playing out in court proceedings around the Fairy Creek blockades this week in B.C. Supreme Court.
Teal-Jones is seeking to extend the injunction obtained in April for a full year, while the RCMP is seeking to change the court order to allow it greater powers against the blockades.
Legal counsel for the Rainforest Flying Squad (RFS), the group organizing the blockades, is arguing neither application should be granted because Teal-Jones and the RCMP have acted unlawfully and violated various aspects of the injunction — and continue to do so.
The RCMP has used unreasonable force to make arrests, and the police and Teal-Jones have taken people’s personal belongings and not returned them, including cellphones, computers, backpacks, and gear, RSF court documents allege.
Officers say the items will be turned over to Teal-Jones, but when asked, the company says it doesn’t have them, the documents said, adding in some instances, such as the raid on Fairy Creek headquarters, Teal-Jones’ contractors “removed personal belongings en masse using pickup trucks.”
The RCMP must return the items or bring them before a justice, according to the Criminal Code, RSF argues.
“That is clearly (a violation) where the RCMP turns people’s personal belongings over to a private corporation.”
Teal-Jones’ contractors, with RCMP participation, are also damaging, destroying or improperly towing vehicles that are not blocking roads or impeding forestry operations, which amounts to “theft and extortion,” the RSF documents claim.
In response, Teal-Jones said in its court documents that it co-ordinates the availability of tow trucks, but the RCMP directs which vehicles are to be towed since the police service enforces the injunction, adding the roads are often narrow and single-lane with little or no shoulder.
“Even vehicles not intended to block roads or impede RCMP enforcement may do so inadvertently,” Teal-Jones said.
The fee to retrieve vehicles is to cover costs of up to $800 to tow the vehicles the considerable distance, $20 per car per night storage, administration, and a portion of the $600-a-night fee for security to monitor the impound lot, the company said.
In addition to the out-of-pocket costs associated with the towing of vehicles that interfere with logging operations, the company said it hasn’t been able to access timber that has an end-product value of $12.3 million.
Teal-Jones responded to accusations about the loss of protesters’ personal possessions by saying it deals with thousands of pounds of garbage and debris when cleaning up after police enforcement, at an average cost of $6,000 a day. The cleanup generally involves items of little or no value, except backpacks, which it says it returns to owners through a dedicated phone line.
“Excluding vehicles, there is no admissible evidence (Teal-Jones) has withheld any personal property of value in TFL 46,” documents said.
“In fact, Teal Cedar has incurred considerable expense to get valuable personal property items back to their owners free of charge.”
The RCMP, represented by the Attorney General of Canada, states in court documents the widespread allegations against police are serious, but many accusations are based on hearsay and opinion, and there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions around excessive force or inappropriate behaviour.
The injunction hearings don’t allow enough time to address, investigate or cross-examine witnesses in specific incidents, and other entities are better suited to deal with complaints against RCMP, such as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) and the Independent Investigations Office of BC, it argues.
“These are the appropriate bodies to deal with the issues raised by the applicants, and they are doing so,” the attorney general said.
As of Monday, the CRCC has received 207 public complaints related to RCMP enforcement at the Fairy Creek blockades, the commission confirmed in an email to Canada’s National Observer.
Of that total, 77 complaints fall under the CRCC’s mandate and will be investigated. The complaints include allegations of excessive force, mishandling of personal belongings, refusal of medical attention, improper arrest and enforcement of exclusion zones, and improper handling of protesters, observers and the media.
RSF spokesperson Carole Toothill said any garbage associated with the camps is created during police raids, but officers don’t give protesters enough time to pack up their belongings before destroying the sites and vehicles with heavy machinery.
Vehicles are being trashed and pushed down embankments, even if they are away from public logging roads, Toothill said.
“I have a video of this grader just pushing over this van, and this van is a woman’s home,” she said.
“A lot of people, especially young people, everything they own is in their vans.”
But many of the vehicles being towed are not camp vehicles, or intended to impede logging, said Toothill, adding her car was towed in May despite being a quarter of a kilometre from an exclusion zone and 10 kilometres from where tree-sitters were protesting.
Plus, the RCMP shifts exclusion zones arbitrarily and without warning, she said.
“All our vehicles were towed. The police just create new exclusion zones. This is their game.”
In addition to her vehicle being towed, Murray said her scooter went missing after RCMP seized the vehicle and its keys from a friend who was trying to get it out of an exclusion zone on Aug. 12.
She hasn’t seen the scooter since, said Murray, who has returned to the area a number of times to look for it, and followed up with RCMP, the Teal-Jones’ phone line, the impound lot, and tow truck drivers with no success.
“I tried to file a report to have it reported as stolen, but no one will take the report because it was potentially part of an investigation, but nobody knows where it is,” Murray said, adding she has forwarded a complaint to the CRCC.
In a request for comment around claims of the excessive use of force by RCMP and the mishandling of personal property at the Fairy Creek blockade, B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General wrote it respects people’s right to peacefully protest.
RCMP enforcement action is an operational matter and at arm’s-length from government, Safety Minister Mike Farnworth’s office wrote, adding people can contact police directly or the CRCC.
“There are well-established processes in place where people can take their concerns or complaints regarding allegations against the RCMP,” Farnworth’s office said.
The ministry did not clarify what steps or measures it takes to ensure public safety at protracted, high-tension demonstrations in the province.
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer