Police tactics are getting increasingly aggressive, according to protesters at the Fairy Creek watershed on southern Vancouver Island.
The RCMP have been actively enforcing an injunction that prohibits interference with Teal Cedar’s forestry operations in the region since May. In July they arrested a steady trickle of people, ranging from zero to 16 arrests in a day. But in the last two weeks, numbers have jumped to the dozens.
Arrests hit the 500-mark on July 29, and by Aug. 21 had already reached 740. In 12 days between Aug. 9 and Aug. 21, RCMP arrested 247 people.
As arrest numbers increase, so does police aggression, blockaders are saying.
“The cops started pepper spraying everyone,” said one woman who was reportedly there, according to Rainforest Flying Squad’s media team.
Black Press Media has not been able to reach the individual for an interview, and the RCMP said no one is available for comment until Monday.
“Early in the day, police were met by individuals who were blocking the roadway and in locking devices attached to an industry gate. There was pushing and shoving and OC spray [pepper spray] was deployed when the crowd failed to comply with police directions and became aggressive,” said RCMP in a statement dated Aug. 21.
One officer was injured (concussion) and was transported to hospital, according to the statement. One protester was also assessed by Emergency Health Services and was transported from the area but the statement does not disclose the extent of the injuries.
Later in the day, officers encountered what they described as several obstacles, including individuals in a tripod structure.
Black Press Media reported in early August that officers had started waiting for protesters locked in hard blocks – different locking devices usually reinforced with concrete or metal used by protestors to secure themselves to an object – to remove themselves and then arrest them, rather than try the hours-long process of extracting them. But soon after, blockaders started a new strategy of creating a human wall around hard blocks allowing a fresh person to exchange places in the hard block. They’v e also effectively linked arms in tight circles and physically pushed police back.
That incident could be the situation leading to this video shared by protesters showing the “pushing and shoving” as the RCMP described it.
Allegations of excessive force are getting attention from politicians, particularly the federal ones as they campaign for the Sept. 20 election. Several NDP candidates shared a letter on Twitter asking for an independent investigation into police actions at Fairy Creek, including local incumbent MPs Laurel Collins, Alistair MacGregor and Randall Garrison.
Noah Ross, a lawyer hired by Rainforest Flying Squad to coordinate legal services for arrested individuals, said the officers are consistently crossing the line of what the injunction mandates and what they’re actually doing.
“I think they’re getting frustrated at people being willing to be arrested, and they’re increasing their violence to stop people from being there,” he said. “They’re trying to make it scary to be out there.”
Ross said he is also disappointed to see the way RCMP has included images of garbage in their enforcement reports.
The piles of material are only garbage because police action destroyed them, as it was the case, when police raided the main camp, called Fairy Creek Headquarters, on Aug. 9, he said.