Protesters against old-growth logging train for blockades, say they'll keep disrupting traffic until they win

·5 min read
Save Old Growth member Ben Holt is seen pulling a man out of the way as part of a  non-violent civil disobedience training exercise. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Save Old Growth member Ben Holt is seen pulling a man out of the way as part of a non-violent civil disobedience training exercise. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

On a sunny Thursday afternoon in Vancouver's Jonathan Rogers Park, across a group of women doing yoga and a French bulldog playing a feverish game of fetch, the peace was pierced by an older man hurling insults at a group of climate activists.

"What's going on here?" he shouted. "Everyone wants to save the damn trees, but you're in my way!"

He began grabbing at their green and gold banners emblazoned with the words, 'SAVE OLD GROWTH'.

Yet the activists did not respond. They sat. They stared. They smiled.

Just as they were being trained to do in an actual protest event.

In recent weeks, Metro Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and Revelstoke have seen protests along major highways, where activists from the group Save Old Growth have been blockading rush-hour traffic in hopes of permanently stopping old-growth logging in B.C.

Save Old Growth
Save Old Growth

Demonstrators recently targeted Vancouver's Second Narrows Bridge, the Massey Tunnel under the Fraser River and the Patricia Bay Highway near North Saanich on Vancouver Island.

The actions resulted in dozens of arrests and sparked tensions with some members of the public over snarled traffic.

Data from the RCMP's E-division shows that as of June 15, 47 arrests have been made in relation to Save Old Growth demonstrations, including 14 arrests between April 4 and June 13.

On June 13, one protester was transported to hospital after falling from a ladder during a demonstration on the Patricia Bay Highway, resulting in a shattered pelvis, according to Save Old Growth.

Another video from an April 21 demonstration on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge appears to show protesters being dragged off the road by motorists.

Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press

B.C. Forestry Minister Katrine Conroy tells CBC the government respects Save Old Growth's right to protest, but that "a small group of individuals trying to disrupt other people's lives is the wrong approach."

She also says the NDP government, in partnership with First Nations, "has prevented logging in nearly 1.7 million hectares of old-growth" since November and that, on average, "old-growth logging in B.C. has decreased by 40 per cent over the past five years."

Training in non-violent techniques

The group describes its high-risk tactics as an escalation of previous protests, including the Fairy Creek blockades on Vancouver Island and the Extinction Rebellion blockades in Vancouver.

Activists from both groups have joined Save Old Growth, which promotes non-violent civil disobedience modelled on the United States civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

"Most people don't go around thinking, 'I'm going to go out and intentionally block a road and get arrested,'" said co-ordinator Tim Brazier, who was charged with mischief after his arrest earlier this year. "So it takes some time to learn and unlearn that arrest equals bad."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Before anyone is allowed to walk into traffic, Brazier says, they must first be trained in non-violent techniques, including role playing where participants endure screaming and yanking while being encouraged to maintain their cool.

"The central principle here, that everyone agrees on, is just how dire the situation is with the climate emergency," said Save Old Growth co-founder and Simon Fraser University student Zain Haq, 21.

"People with different political views and different backgrounds are willing to put that aside … for the purpose of actually getting legislative victory against a government that doesn't seem to be too happy about taking proper climate action," Haq said.

The third-year history major was ordered earlier this month to show up at a Canada Border Services Agency office, Brazier told the CBC.

CBC
CBC

Haq, an international student from Pakistan, said he has been arrested 10 times for acts of civil resistance at various climate-related protests since 2020, including being sentenced to jail for two weeks for violating an injunction against protests over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion (TMX).

The National Observer has reported that Haq recently turned himself in, and was moved to an immigration holding centre in Surrey where he'll remain until he has a hearing scheduled.

Disruptions risk turning public opinion

Ben Holt, 52, who played the role of a frustrated driver during group training, says the first time he helped shut down traffic near Grandview Highway at Boundary Road on Easter Monday, a man came forward pleading to get through so he could visit a dying family member.

"Very sad to hear his story, and you can't help but have empathy for him," said the North Vancouver father of two.

"But, you know, we've been pushed into this corner and we have to do what we have to do to get change."

Holt says police arrived shortly afterward and cleared a path, allowing the man to get through.

In 2021, a poll by Insights West and the Sierra Club B.C. found 78 per cent of British Columbians were concerned with old-growth logging in the province.

SFU political science professor Stewart Prest says the group's single-issue approach differentiates them from other social movements, making it easier for people to understand what they want to achieve — but their disruptive strategies could cost them public opinion.

Jon Hernandez/CBC
Jon Hernandez/CBC

"Politicians will act when they feel political pressure, not just from the social movement actors themselves, but from the broader population," he said.

"These kinds of disruptive strategies raise awareness around the issue, but they may not win over support among the broader population.

"That may reduce the amount of pressure politicians feel to give in to any kinds of demands."

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