Above photo: Protesters sit around the so-called River Camp, part of the Fairy Creek blockade north of Port Renfrew, B.C., in September 2020. Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC.
Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. – May 21, 2021: The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has written to the provincial government and RCMP Commissioner condemning the arbitrary and unlawful RCMP Exclusion Zone in unceded Ditidaht territory. The RCMP have established two checkpoints and roadblocks along the McClure Main and Caycuse Main roads near the Fairy Creek blockade against old-growth logging.
In an open letter to Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan, the BCCLA notes that the RCMP’s actions are overbroad in scope and constitute an inconsistent, arbitrary, and illegal exercise of police discretion to block members of the public, including legal observers and the media, from accessing the area. The roadblocks also cut off an important emergency route to the Ditidaht First Nation reserve near Nitinat Lake.
According to BCCLA Staff Counsel Veronica Martisius, “The BCCLA is deeply disturbed by the RCMP exclusion zone near the Fairy Creek blockades on unceded Ditidaht territory. There is nothing in the injunction that prohibits movement in the area or peaceful protest. The RCMP, by their actions, are showing blatant disregard for Indigenous rights and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. This situation is alarmingly reminiscent of what occurred in Wet’suwet’en territories last year.”
Legal Observers Victoria have documented a number of RCMP practices designed to prevent the public from witnessing and documenting police actions. The organization has documented RCMP officers using tarps and other coverings to visually conceal arrests from media and legal observers. Legal Observers Victoria have also documented RCMP officers attempting to coral and contain media and legal observers in designated areas where they are unable to document RCMP enforcement. Several journalists and legal observers have been arrested and forcibly removed from the area for attempting to document police actions.
The BCCLA and Legal Observers Victoria demand that the RCMP uphold and respect individuals’ right to engage in peaceful protest and not criminalize Indigenous people who are exercising their constitutionally-protected inherent rights. The organizations call on the provincial government and RCMP Commissioner to immediately put an end to RCMP attempts to prohibit Ditidaht people, media, legal observers, and members of the public from accessing the area, including for witnessing and documenting police behavior and reporting on a story of national public interest.
“The RCMP’s repeated attempts to shroud their enforcement operations at Fairy Creek in secrecy raised serious public safety concerns from the very beginning. Now, as arrests become increasingly violent and physical, we are seeing exactly why the RCMP is so committed to preventing the public from witnessing their activities. This is the reason that Legal Observers exist – to create community safety through police accountability. The RCMP’s continued hostility towards observers and press is a blatant attempt to avoid taking accountability for their role in ongoing colonial violence towards land defenders, Indigenous communities, and the land itself.” – Keith Cherry, Organizer with Legal Observers Victoria
“As reporters, we need unmediated access to situations of public concern. I myself have been turned away at an RCMP roadblock in contravention of established precedents in Canadian law, while my reporter has been corralled and shepherded around with other media instead of being allowed free access to the site of the arrests. This tight control is unacceptable in a time-sensitive situation where the safety and respect for the rights of all participants is at stake. The RCMP is taking advantage of the remoteness of the location to discourage real-time efforts to cover what’s happening. Nobody is fooled when public-facing press releases say one thing while on-the-ground officers do another.” – Jimmy Thomson, Capital Daily
“Journalism cannot happen when journalists are excluded from the area of events they are meant to cover. That should be a simple and uncontroversial statement. Yet, over eight years and at least five situations across the country, police have sought to exclude journalists through the use of broad exclusion zones. The courts, in the Brake precedent, and the RCMP’s own oversight body, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, have both found it to be unlawful to use these restrictions to interfere with journalists. When, usually under threat of legal action, the RCMP do allow access, they impose conditions reminiscent of authoritarian regimes: media containment zones, chaperones, and arresting or detaining journalists for the crime of trying to do their job. This is not press freedom. We stand with industry groups like the Canadian Association of Journalists, and international press freedom groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists, in denouncing this overreach of policing power to interfere with the right of journalists to do their job, and most importantly, the right of the public to be well informed on issues of clear public interest.”- Ethan Cox, Ricochet Media