This week, the British Columbia Supreme Court refused to extend an injunction against protests against old growth forests in and around Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island. But the rejection had nothing to do with logging or the actions of the protesters.
Instead, Judge Douglas W. Thompson rejected the logging company’s request because of the way the Royal Canadian Mounted Police behaved in enforcing the injunction, offering a scathing rebuke to the national police force.
“I’ve never heard of anything like it,” Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, told me in an email. “I am not aware of any case where police misconduct has been cited as a reason to stop such an injunction.”
While Justice Thompson found that the logging company that sought to extend the injunction suffered “irreparable damage” as a result of the protests, he wrote that the actions of the mounted police in enforcing it “resulted in a violation. serious and substantial civil liberties ”.
Mounted police did not immediately comment. The office of Bill Blair, the Minister of Public Safety, declined to comment.
Fairy Creek has become a center of protests after Premier John Horgan’s New Democratic Party, protesters believe, backtracked on a promise he made to protect old growth forests in the provincial election last year.
While old logging was suspended in parts of the province, it was continued in and around Fairy Creek until June by the Teal-Jones lumber company. The company operated forests in partnership with the three First Nations whose territories include the forests of Fairy Creek.
The gendarmes came in large numbers to the demonstrations and arrests began to increase after the logging company, who said this week that “it is a myth that the old growth forest in the area is in danger”, was given an injunction in April against the efforts of the demonstrators to stop its work.
In his ruling, Justice Thompson described some of the protesters’ actions, such as digging deep trenches in roads or hanging from wooden tripods up to 30 feet high, as “examples of escalating illegality. “. But he also concluded that they were not the norm.
“The videos and other evidence show that they are disciplined and patient adhering to standards of non-violent disobedience,” he wrote. “There have only been occasional deviations from this standard. “
In contrast, Justice Thompson found that the mounted police repeatedly eroded “the reputation of the court” as they proceeded to enforce the injunction.
In particular, he sharply criticized the mounted police leadership for ordering officers to remove their names and other identification from their uniforms. Police told the judge it was a move necessary to spare them and their families from possible online harassment.
Noting that anonymity effectively makes it impossible for citizens to successfully file complaints of police misconduct, Justice Thomson wrote that this ruling was inappropriate for anyone in positions of authority, including judges.
“We identify with each other,” he wrote. “Responsibility demands it. “
As of September 24, the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission had received 230 complaints about police actions in Fairy Creek. He is investigating 93 of them.
Most of the officers present at the demonstration also wore “thin blue line”Patches on their uniforms despite a national directive banning the practice. Justice Thompson said that an Indigenous woman said in an affidavit that members of her community viewed the crests, which typically covered the line of a Canadian flag, as “symbolic of the history of the RCMP’s involvement in the application of policies that led to the genocide of indigenous peoples. . “In the United States, similar patches and flags have changed from a symbol of support for the police to a symbol of opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Judge Thompson also found that despite an earlier court direction, police continued to interfere with reporters covering the protests.
Judge Thompson’s ruling is not the first reprimand from mounted police in recent years, including the forcible handling of other protests. And Robert Gordon, professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., said it probably wouldn’t be the last. He is also not convinced that the embarrassment this brings to the force will result in any significant change.
“For almost 20 years, there have been a series of incidents, reports and boxes full of recommendations on RCMP change,” Professor Gordon, who was a police officer in Britain, told me. “The bottom line is that the RCMP see themselves as the last word on policing in Canada and are reluctant and very resistant to engaging in any kind of change other than superficial dressings.” . “
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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