A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has denied an application by Teal Cedar Products Ltd. to extend the injunction against blockades by protestors of old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island. Teal Cedar was requesting a 12-month extension, but the court ruling means the injunction has now expired. This is a huge victory for the Rainforest Flying Squad and other protestors who have been demonstrating and blocking access to the watershed since August of last year to protect the old growth forest from logging activity. However, while an important victory has been won in a key battleground of this “War in the Woods”, the war itself is far from over.
Civil liberties and police violence
In the ruling, Justice Douglas Thompson clearly indicated that the actions of the police were the main reason for the refusal to extend the injunction. While acknowledging that the refusal to grant the extension could harm the logging company’s interests and profits, the ruling states that “On the other hand, methods of enforcement of the court’s order have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree.”
Significantly, the ruling also says the following:
“And enforcement has been carried out by police officers rendered anonymous to the protesters, many of those police officers wearing ‘thin blue line’ badges. All of this has been done in the name of enforcing this court’s order, adding to the already substantial risk to the court’s reputation whenever an injunction pulls the court into this type of dispute between citizens and the government.”
As reported by the CBC, Thompson states in the ruling that the factors in favour of extending the injunction were outweighed by “the public interest in protecting the court from the risk of further depreciation of its reputation,” adding that “I conclude that the court’s reputation has been depreciated by the manner in which the order has been enforced.”
In his ruling, Thompson openly expressed concern that the thuggish actions of police in enforcing the injunction were directly tied to the orders of the court. This link between the police and the courts is obvious and undeniable. The court issued an injunction against the blockades, and the police moved in and abused protestors and in the process arrested over 1,100 people. These actions by police were done precisely to enforce the injunction in defence of the logging company’s interests.
It should not have come as a surprise to those in the courts responsible for the injunction that the police would behave in such a way in an effort to enforce that injunction. When the police are given the authority under an injunction to clear out blockades and protests, the only outcome is often police violence and brutality. What did they expect?
Other than granting concessions, which is often not an option because the whole point of these injunctions is for the courts to protect corporate interests, how else can the state crush a movement of civil disobedience that involves protests and blockades? We have seen this play out repeatedly, including recently in the struggle of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia to protect their unceded lands from pipeline construction.
While it shouldn’t have surprised the justices of the courts, it was perhaps the scope and scale of the violence and arrests by police that took the courts by surprise. With the police arresting some 1,100 in the process of enforcing the injunction, the number of arrests in the Fairy Creek blockades makes the protests one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Logging was also the key issue in one of the other largest acts of civil disobedience in Canada’s history; the Clayoquot Sound protests in British Columbia (the original “War in the Woods”), which were also a series of protests and blockades against clearcutting and old-growth logging throughout the 1980s and which culminated in 1993 when some 850 people were arrested.
One particular concern raised in the ruling was related to RCMP brass ordering officers to obscure their badge numbers in order “to prevent online harassment.” Interestingly, the court ruling saw right through the RCMP’s arguments about obscuring badges to prevent online harassment.
The ruling states that “Putting aside a visceral reaction against seeing Canadian police officers in a position of anonymity from the perspective of their fellow citizens, there are good reasons for insisting on police being precisely identifiable at least by regimental number. Anyone, especially if congregated in a group — even police officers — might be tempted to stray from propriety if there is an increased chance that they might not be accountable for their actions.”
Of course, the whole reason the police obscure their badges is precisely to avoid accountability when they “stray from propriety”. Complaints and charges against the police for assault and acts of brutality cannot go very far when officers and regiments cannot be identified. This is the whole point behind the obscuring of badges.
What’s more, the police aren’t simply “tempted” to stray from propriety, whether congregated in a group or not. The police knowingly want to “stray from propriety” and want to abuse and beat on protestors and others engaged in civil disobedience. They also intentionally obscure their badges or avoid wearing them altogether precisely so they can get away with such abuse. In fact, abuse and brutality of protestors are the propriety of the police. It’s what they do.
Beware false friends
The fact that the courts refused to extend the injunction because of the actions of police is unusual in and of itself. Under normal circumstances, the courts and the police work hand-in-hand to enforce various laws and rulings that protect the interests of the ruling class and their corporations. The court injunctions and police violence against Wet’suwet’en and Haudenosaunee land defenders are the graphic evidence of this, as are the anti-strike and anti-protest laws passed in Alberta under the UCP government. Protecting the interests of the ruling class against the working class and oppressed is the fundamental role of the state in capitalist society after all.
Those involved in the protests and blockades at Fairy Creek should rightly celebrate this victory against the injunction and the police, but with the understanding that this a victory in just one of the battles of what will likely be a long war.
In a certain sense, the courts have sided with the protestors against the police—but this is only to protect the reputation of the court and does not mean that the courts agree with or condone the protests and blockades. The court has given the police a slap on the wrist and by refusing to extend the injunction have told them that the thin blue line badges and abuse of protestors are a step too far.
It should be noted that the court refused to rule on the issue of the duty to protect the environment and old-growth forests, as this falls outside its jurisdiction. The ruling also criticized the “extreme” measures taken by protestors and the damage to Teal Cedar’s property and profits. What this recent ruling tells the corporation and the police is that if the cops remove the thin blue lines badges and display their regimental numbers, they can get back to the business of protecting Teal Cedar’s interests in Fairy Creek. This likely means future injunctions and continued arrests and brutality at the hands of the police, as long as it is done with the usual propriety of the police.
Furthermore, the Teal Jones Group has a vested interest in the profits it wants to generate from the old-growth logging at Fairy Creek. The company has already filed to appeal the ruling and has threatened to lay off workers and close mills if it cannot continue its logging activity in the watershed. These arguments will be taken seriously by the courts and are usually sufficient reason for granting injunctions.
The police will be furious about the court’s ruling and the critiques of how they enforced the injunction. They will be furious that they can no longer beat and arrest people for a simple violation of the injunction (contempt of court) and will loudly complain that their “hands have been tied”. In fact, in relation to the ruling and the judge’s comments about the thin blue line badges, National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé has already defended police actions, saying, “On many occasions over the last 133 days, they have embodied the thin blue line between order and chaos.” We may point out that this is a clear admission that “thin blue line” patches are a political statement in opposition to the “chaos” of environmentalists, workers, and Indigenous land defenders, and is in blatant contradiction to the propaganda that the police are a neutral body. If Teal Cedar’s appeal is successful, or if another injunction is issued, we can expect the police to continue behaving as they always do.
There will be opposition to this refusal to grant the extension in political and judicial circles as well as corporate boardrooms across the country. There will be enormous pressure to grant the appeal or to have other injunctions put in place. This current victory could turn out to be very short-lived. Whatever the result of the appeal, it is very possible, and even likely that further legal rulings and injunctions will be issued in the future that will side decisively with the corporation.
The courts normally would not be concerned that police violence in enforcing an injunction would harm the reputation of the court or legitimacy of the rule of law. The fact that the courts are suddenly concerned that police violence damages the reputation of the legal system and damages the legitimacy of the “rule of law” is yet another indicator of the growing polarization and intensification of the class struggle in Canada.
While the court’s decision does not necessarily mean there is an irreconcilable split in the Canadian state apparatus at this time, the court’s refusal to extend the injunction shows that a part of the state apparatus is becoming concerned that the reputation and legitimacy of the state institutions and the rule of (bourgeois) law are being damaged beyond repair.
A revolutionary mood of anger is developing around the world, and Canada is no exception. Justice Thompson openly expressed a concern that is probably growing among a certain layer inside the state and judicial machinery. The concern is that having the courts presiding over a bunch of thugs in police uniform with thin blue line badges and no identification running amok and beating the hell out of people, along with mass arrests blasted all over TV and social media, will add fuel to the fire of this growing revolutionary mood and will accelerate the loss of faith in bourgeois institutions.
The fact of the matter is that as the crisis of capitalism continues to deepen, the opposition to capital will increase and become increasingly resolute. This will push the capitalists and the state to take more draconian actions to protect profits and the system as a whole. The courts are there to protect the profits of the capitalists, and in general will continue to grant injunctions for that very purpose. Concerns about the reputation of the courts and other bourgeois institutions will fall to the wayside in order to protect profits.
Unity to protect the environment and protect jobs
In a recent statement, United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, the union local representing forestry workers on Vancouver Island, condemned the “extremist” tactics such as tree spiking used by protestors at Fairy Creek:
“The type of unsafe acts these extremists are perpetrating are outrageous and extremely dangerous for our members…tree spiking can lead to serious injury and death, not only when chainsaws hit metal spikes causing kickbacks but to millworkers when saws hit spikes causing shrapnel to fly from damaged saws.”
This is obviously the right position to take in this situation. No workers should face the risk of injury and death while simply doing their job and the union is doing the right thing by trying to protect its members.
The USW local president Brian Butler said that no workers have been injured as a result of these tactics, but that workers are concerned and on alert. In the statement, the USW called on the Rainforest Flying Squad and other protesters at Fairy Creek to publicly denounce tactics that endanger forestry workers.
Unfortunately, USW also made a point of expressing their “full support” for the RCMP and their efforts to enforce the Supreme Court’s April injunction to remove protesters from Fairy Creek. This is a shameful position to take, and shows that the state and the ruling class have been able to divide the very people who should be uniting and working together to protect both jobs and the environment, in this case the forestry workers and environmental activists.
The environmental activists want to protect the old-growth forests and the environment in general. The forestry workers want to protect their jobs. While these two agendas are apparently at odds, they do not have to be.
After years of propaganda and the total absence of a credible left-wing voice defending the interests of the working class, forestry workers in B.C., similar to oil patch workers in Alberta, have come to identify the interests of the corporations with their own. This is mostly out of a desire to maintain jobs. From the perspective of the workers, the shutting down of logging in Fairy Creek and the arguments from environmental activists that logging should be done away with means they will lose their jobs. This is a terrifying prospect under capitalism. Thus, the reasoning of the workers becomes “What is good for the business is good for us”. This helps to explain, but cannot justify, the recent statement by the union in support of the police actions and injunctions.
The argument on the left should not be protecting jobs versus protecting the environment, but rather it should be about protecting jobs and protecting the environment. The two things are not mutually exclusive, as the capitalists would have us believe.
Old-growth logging is not sustainable, and in fact points towards the death of the industry. At a certain point this activity must come to an end because there will be no more old-growth forest to chop down. Once that happens, forestry workers will lose their jobs. Once the old-growth forests are gone along with the profits they generate, the jobs too will disappear.
Rather than develop sustainable second-growth logging activity, which takes more long-term thinking and planning and more time (meaning lower immediate profits), the capitalists have turned to old-growth logging to make a quick buck. On this basis, the bosses and the workers march hand-in-hand towards the doom of the industry. From this perspective, forestry workers looking to keep their jobs will not achieve this by tying their interests to those of the bosses and old-growth logging.
As we have argued previously, there is a way to protect jobs and the environment through the careful use of managed forests. However, this cannot be done on the basis of capitalism where the pursuit of profits will trump the protection of the environment every single time. Protecting forestry jobs and the environment can only be achieved on the basis of a democratically planned economy, controlled by the working class.
Unfortunately, forestry workers and environmental activists have been pitted against one another. This division is what has allowed the capitalists to get away with old-growth logging and environmental destruction in the pursuit of quick profits. What we need is unity and to recognize that the interests of the forestry workers and the interests of activists wanting to protect the environment are one and the same. The key to achieving our common goals is the end of production for profit, the end of capitalism, and the establishment of a socialist society where the working class can plan the economy, protect jobs and protect the environment.