Minutes after stopping a car on Vancouver's Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to disrupt traffic Monday, protesters holding a “Save Old Growth” banner were arrested.
Police were on standby at the bridge before the action even started, alerted perhaps by news of protesters planning to block vital roadways in various B.C. locations every day until old-growth logging is stopped. Shortly after activists rolled up in a green sedan and stopped the vehicle in a northbound lane just after 7:30 a.m., Vancouver police officers moved in.
Within minutes, officers arrested two protesters who left the car and sat on the bridge deck with the “Save Old Growth” banner.
Two more people, who remained inside the vehicle, lasted only a bit longer. After a short interaction, a Vancouver police officer grabbed a baton, smashed two side windows, dragged both people out of the car and arrested them. Another protester who wasn’t in the car was also arrested.
In a media release, the Vancouver Police Department said that in addition to the arrests, officers seized three vehicles near the bridge they believed were to be used to block traffic. The car the protesters drove on the bridge was towed away shortly after.
“Our officers worked quickly to prevent a prolonged blockade on the bridge and to keep traffic moving,” said VPD Sgt. Steve Addison.
“Although we avoided major delays, many people were still impacted while we worked to restore order.”
Some drivers trying to make their way to North Vancouver were unimpressed. One yelled at the blockaders; another shouted, “Get a job.”
Earlier in the morning, other members of Save Old Growth (SOG), a group started in January, cut off lanes of the Patricia Bay Highway near the Swartz Bay ferry terminal on Vancouver Island and the Massey Tunnel between Richmond and Delta, where four people were arrested.
The Lower Mainland blockades were cleared by 8 a.m., but traffic was heavily backed up, with long delays along Highway 99 in both directions approaching the tunnel and along Highway 1 approaching the bridge.
Traffic along the Patricia Bay Highway, or Highway 17, was still blocked northbound at the interchange near Tsehum Lagoon Park as police dealt with protesters until 10:45 a.m.
One protester was injured and sent to hospital after an angry motorist interfered with a ladder structure at the Patricia Bay blockade, SOG spokesperson Tim Brazier said, adding details about the severity or nature of the injuries weren’t yet available.
The RCMP specialized obstacle removal team and the Community-Industry Response Group were called in to safely dismantle the obstacles set up at the Vancouver Island blockade, said media relations officer Cpl. Alex Bérubé.
“The protest created frustration amongst commuters who attempted to bypass this illegal blockade,” said Bérubé, who confirmed a protester was injured falling from a ladder. Five arrests were made in total at the Pat Bay site, he added.
In all, 14 people were arrested at the three blockades.
“Those blockades are simply dangerous for protesters and for others,” he said.
“While we understand the commuters’ frustration, the RCMP does not condone illegal actions taken to bypass blockades,” he added.
An investigation will take place to look into the circumstances of the protester’s fall, said Bérubé.
The group said it will continue to block critical infrastructure “for as long as possible” until its demand is met — that the B.C. government ban old-growth logging in the province. Although details have not been released about future plans, organizers said they have trained additional protesters and will go back with more people in the days to come.
“We will be going back on the roads again tomorrow in Vancouver and every day until the government passes legislation,” Brazier said Monday.
“People entering into civil resistance today are having to put themselves in harm's way because much greater harm is coming down the line if we don't act on the climate crisis.”
Monday’s protest builds on previous action — the group has organized blockades in recent months in the Lower Mainland, the Greater Victoria Area and on Vancouver Island. It has also dumped manure at B.C. Premier John Horgan’s office.
The provincial government respects the right to peaceful protest, but a small group of individuals trying to disrupt other people’s lives is the wrong approach, Forestry Minister Katrine Conroy said in an email.
The B.C. government has deferred logging in 1.7 million hectares of old-growth forest in partnership with First Nations, she said, adding approximately 80 per cent of the most at-risk old-growth in B.C. is not threatened because it is protected, deferred or not profitable to harvest.
However, old-growth logging is a political hot button, and environmental groups have hotly contested the province’s commitment to meeting the recommendations of the old-growth strategic review and protecting B.C.'s biggest trees and ancient ecosystems. Indigenous leaders have also expressed concern about the length of and details in the deferral.
Close to 1,200 people were arrested at the Fairy Creek old-growth logging blockades, one of the longest-running civil disobedience protests in B.C.'s history, on southern Vancouver Island last summer in Horgan’s riding.
Last week, Zain Haq, co-ordinator for Save Old Growth, said the move to block highways is in response to the urgency of the climate crisis. Although he said he understands protesting at sites such as Fairy Creek or the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (where he has been arrested at both), he thinks different kinds of civil disobedience are necessary.
“What I've come to realize is that what we need to do is something much bigger. That communicates the existential emergency that we're in; that sort of involves the public in the debate,” he said.
“... It's not like you want to be doing this. Or that we're super into blocking highways or ferries. But that's totally what we need to do to force this dialogue on the government and on the press.”
It’s why old-growth forests, which sequester carbon from the atmosphere, provide habitat and flood and fire protection, need to have clear protection, said Haq.
Canada’s National Observer reached out to Horgan’s office but has not heard back. This article will be updated as comments become available.
Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer