Course:News Coverage of Fairy Creek

From UBC Wiki

News coverage of the Fairy Creek protests has centered around topics such as the actions of the Teal-Jones Group logging company; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s handling of injunction enforcement and its interactions with journalists; the positions of Indigenous people on the protests and logging of the Fairy Creek watershed; and news media’s challenges in reporting on the protests. The media coverage of the Fairy Creek protests has also revolved around its impact on the 2021 Canadian federal election and its connection to broader climate change activism. The Fairy Creek protests are an ongoing series of protests and blockades that began in August 2020 against the old-growth logging of the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island.[1] Protesters at Fairy Creek have also stated that they have expanded their agenda to trying to halt old-growth logging across B.C. and bring awareness and criticize British Columbia’s Premier John Horgan for his inaction to halt old-growth logging in the province.[2]  

Introduction to the Fairy Creek Protests

Since August 2020, an ongoing series of protests to protect old-growth forests from logging in southern Vancouver Island has become the largest civil disobedience act in Canada’s history.[3] Old-growth forests are defined as multi-storied, canopied forests comprised of trees that are at least 250 years old.[1] The Fairy Creek watershed is considered to be one of only remaining authentic old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and makes up a substantial amount of the island’s surviving “original ancient forest[s].”[1] Over the past century, 80 per cent of the old-growth forests on Vancouver Island have been logged, resulting in calls to protect these remaining forests.[4] The Fairy Creek watershed is a 59,000-hectare forest tenure in the south-west portion of Vancouver Island leased to the logging company called The Teal-Jones Group: B.C.’s largest privately owned lumber product manufacturing and timber harvesting company.[5] The Teal-Jones Group owns Tree Farm License 46 (TFL 46), which grants them the rights to log 200-hectares of the the Fairy Creek watershed.[6]

Fairy Creek has become the “catch-all” term for all protests and blockades against logging in the region.[6]  Environmental protesters that have been active in the Fairy Creek watershed state that their primary goal is to protect the final unscathed old-growth watershed — external to a park or protected area — located in the southern region of Vancouver Island.[1] The protesters have also stated that they want to admonish Premier John Horgan for not following through on his previous assurance that he would work to stop old-growth logging in B.C.[2] The protesters goals have developed from originally trying to specifically protect the Fairy Creek watershed from logging to a more comprehensive goal: an end to all old-growth logging in British Columbia.[2] In April 2020, the Supreme Court of British Columbia granted an injunction favouring the Teal-Jones Group that banned blockades and protests that blocked logging activities in the Fairy Creek watershed.[3] A month later, in May 2020, police began to arrest protesters and break up blockades.[1] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were deployed to enforce the injunction, and have since come under heavy scrutiny because of reports of excessive use of force against protesters and attempts to block media from reporting on the protests.[3] As of September 27, 2021, police have made over 1,100 arrests in connection with the Fairy Creek protests.[7]

Timeline of Events in the Fairy Creek Protests

Aerial view of Fairy Creek. Photo: TJ Watt

In August 2020, the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island became a “flashpoint” for protests against the logging of the province’s old-growth forests.[8] British Columbia's New Democratic Party provincial government originally announced its intention to develop new plans for the protection of the province’s remaining old-growth forests in its 2020 campaign for re-election.[9] The New Democratic Party of British Columbia won re-election under the leadership of Premier John Horgan in October 2020.[10] Despite the B.C. government’s announcement, the Teal-Jones Group commenced logging operations in the Fairy Creek watershed, leading to protesters  “taking recourse against a government that refuses to act” to protect B.C’s remaining old-growth forests.[7]

Calls for protest to protect the Fairy Creek watershed from logging were initiated on the internet by Joshua Wright, a 17-year-old from Union, Washington.[4] Protests began after Carol Tootle, spokesperson for the activist group Rainforest Flying Squad, gathered with 30 other protesters at the Fairy Creek watershed on August 9, 2020.[11] Tootle stated that she became motivated to protest after being made aware that one of the “last intact watershed” old-growth forests outside of a park or protected area on Vancouver Island was being logged.[12] The Rainforest Flying Squad has been the primary environmental activist group leading the Fairy Creek protests.[13] The Fairy Creek blockades are a critical aspect of the Rainforest Flying Squad's protest strategy, “Last Stand for Forests.”[14]  

On April 12, 2021, Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones officially announced that the Pacheedaht First Nation did not support the blockade of Fairy Creek and made a formal request for the protesters to leave.[12] The Fairy Creek watershed is located on the Pacheedaht nation’s territory, and the nation has a revenue-sharing agreement with the provincial government to receive compensation for logging within their territory.[4]

In April 2021, the Teal-Jones Group was granted an injunction by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and the RCMP began making arrests and breaking up protesters’ camps the next month.[1] The injunction banned the blockading of logging actions at the Fairy Creek and neighbouring Caycuse watersheds.[8] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were tasked with carrying out the injunction and have since faced heavy criticism and been accused of using excessive force against protesters.[8]

In June 2021, the elected and hereditary chiefs of the Huu-ay-aht, Pacheedaht, and Ditidaht Indigenous nations officially requested for old-growth logging to be temporarily halted in the Fairy Creek watershed for two years until the “First Nations title holders build resource-stewardship plans for their lands.”[15] This two year deferral of old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed was approved by the B.C. provincial government on June 9.[15]

In September 2021, the extension of the Teal-Jones Group’s injunction was denied by a B.C. Supreme Court judge.[16] B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson refused to approve the extension because he believed it constituted an “infringement of civil liberties” and an “impairment of the freedom of the press.”[8] The judge emphasized that the “expulsion zones” implemented by the RCMP to enforce the injunction were unlawful, as these zones prevented media from properly monitoring police actions against protesters.[3]

On October 8, 2021, Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein reversed this decision by implementing a temporary injunction against protesters to avoid “potential economic harm” to Teal-Jones.[17]

News Coverage of the Teal-Jones Group

The Teal-Jones Group[18] owns Tree Farm License 46 (TFL 46),[19] which grants them the exclusive rights to the permits required to log 200-hectares of the 1,200-hectare Fairy Creek area on Vancouver Island.[20] In August 2020, when it became clear to forest protection activists, the Rainforest Flying Squad[21], that the company was beginning to cut logging roads and looking to begin logging 20-hectares of their permitted area, protesters set up blockades to try and shut it down.

Coverage of the Teal-Jones Group's actions at the Fairy Creek watershed was sparse before April 2021, but since the injunction, appeal, and interim injunction[22] (granted on Oct. 8, 2021), Teal-Jones has been mentioned in over 400 news articles both locally, in B.C., and nationally according to the UBC database.[23] Local outlets include The Times Columnist,[24] Western Investor,[25] and Vancouver Island Free Daily.[26] National outlets include The National Observer,[27] The Narwhal[28], CBC,[29] and Global News.[30] Many articles focus on the protesters and RCMP, but others interview Teal-Jones representatives directly.[31] Coverage varied in terms of sources, framing, imagery, language, and objectivity.

Teal-Jones has been mentioned in past Canadian news coverage, especially with regards to logging activity in the Walbran Valley in 2015/2016 and the granting of injunctions for protests taking place in that area.[32] Coverage included publication in both Vancouver Island-local and British Columbia outlets such as The Globe and Mail[33], The Times Colonist[34], The Sooke Mirror[35], and Nanaimo Daily News (now non-operating).  

Royal Canadian Mounted Police and News Media at Fairy Creek

Protesters at a Fairy Creek logging road being confronted by police. Photo by Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

On April 1, 2021, the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction to Teal-Cedar Products Ltd., a subsidiary of the Teal-Jones Group. The injunction prohibits protesters from blocking access to roads and company activities. It also allows the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to enforce the injunction. According to an RCMP press release, their primary concerns are based on “public safety, police officer safety, and preservation of the right to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the Supreme Court in the injunction”[7].

In May 2021, the RCMP began to enforce the injunction, leading to reports of them using excessive force, obstructing the media, and arresting multiple protesters[36].

Minor injuries suffered by police officers have also been reported. One officer suffered a concussion. Protesters have reported being pepper-sprayed in the mouth, grabbed by the crotch, and having their personal possessions and provisions confiscated. [37] [38]

YouTube videos corroborate claims of excessive force being used against peaceful protesters, with some videos showing protesters being assaulted while on the ground[37]. It is alleged that almost every protester faced “police brutality, intentional infliction of injury — the bent-back thumb, the knee to elbow, wrist, or neck.” It is also reported that BIPOC protesters were often “plucked from groups for particularly harsh treatment,”[38]. Protesters also asserted that the RCMP acted in a much less violent manner when members of the press were present, but reverted to the use of intimidation tactics when there was no longer a press presence.

National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé was reported to have considered legal action against protesters and their supporters, arguing that the police force has been acting in their professional capacity, despite the danger they face while enforcing the injunction[39].

Other media obstructions were reported by a CBC crew who were asked by the RCMP to hike seven kilometers and denied access to both an RCMP vehicle and their own car to reach the blockade site [40].

A motion was filed by a coalition of media groups including The Narwhal, The Discourse, IndigiNews, Ricochet, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), asking the B.C. Supreme Court to add a clause to the injunction allowing the press to access the injunction zone. On July 20, 2021, a ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court was issued in their favour[41]. Subsequently, the RCMP was instructed to lift restrictions on journalists and allow a media presence unless there is a valid “bona fide operational reason” to not do so[42].

Since May 2021, more than 1,100 arrests have been made, with more than 100 people being arrested more than once[43].

On September 28, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson denied the extension application to the injunction brought by the Teal-Jones Group, and asserted that the RCMP’s enforcement tactics “led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties.”[44] Justice Thompson reprimanded the RCMP’s use of “thin blue line” patches which are “seen as provocative and insensitive by some of the citizens they serve,” and chastised members of the RCMP for concealing their identity numbers or names on their uniforms [45]. Thin blue line patches are recognized as a symbol for the racist extreme-right movement in Canada and the United States, although supporters of the patches view them as a token honouring the police and their families[46].

The RCMP’s union issued a statement expressing that they were “proud of the officers,” and that their work at Fairy Creek “embodied the thin blue line between order and chaos.” [45]  The statement also thanked the officers for their service at Fairy Creek and wished them “a relaxing and peaceful time at home with their families after so much time away.” [43]

Although the RCMP withdrew their officers after the extension to the injunction was denied, police involvement is still observed in the area, with protesters being arrested for mischief or obstruction[47].

The RCMP’s exploitation of ‘exclusion zones’, or temporary areas where they and Coastal GasLink operate, continued into September 2021, despite the court ruling their use unlawful. Exclusion zones were previously used extensively during RCMP raids on Wet’suwet’en territory in 2019 and 2020[48].

On October 8, 2021, Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein from the B.C. Court of Appeal granted the Teal-Jones Group a temporary injunction citing potential economic harm for the company including potential loss of clients, degradation of reputation, inability to winterize logging roads, economic harm to First Nations partners, potential unemployment, and permanent loss of workers[49].

Climate Change and the 2021 Canadian Federal Election

A forest road leading to a clear cut. Photo by TJ Watt

On August 15, 2021, Canada experienced wildfires in British Columbia, Ontario and Manitoba[50]. Wildfires are caused when fuel made of organic matter, such as vegetation, combines with oxygen in the air and a source of heat to cause an ignition. They can be caused naturally by lightning or caused by human actions[51].  A report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) highlights that wildfires are increasing in frequency due to human-caused climate change. The report notes that “future climate variability [is] expected to enhance the risk and severity of wildfires. [52]” The UN IPCC is responsible “for assessing the science related to climate change” (IPCC).

As the August 2021 wildfires burned, the Liberal Party Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, went to Rideau Hall and formally asked the Governor-General, Mary Simon, to dissolve parliament.[53] This resulted in an election being called in Canada. The 2021 Canadian federal election was set for September 20th, 2021, beginning a 36-day snap election campaign [53].

In the summer of 2021, the Canadian Journalism Project, also known as J-Source, analyzed news media coverage of climate change[54]. J-Source aims to provide discourse about journalism in Canada [55]. The analysis by J-Source found that “the industry has failed to adequately inform the public on arguably the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced [54]. J-Source noted that journalists reporting on heat conditions and drought which included the word “unprecedented” often failed to link the events to climate change. The Canadian Press has updated its style guide to advise that journalists should provide context around “extreme weather events” related to climate change [54].

The Fairy Creek protests received some news coverage in the context of the 2021 Canadian federal election. Canadian Broadcast Corporation journalists interviewed candidates running in the Cowichan-Malahat-Langford federal electoral district, which is located in the traditional territories of Pacheedaht First Nations. There was disagreement amongst candidates on moving forward in light of demonstrations. The New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Alistair MacGregor focused on Indigenous stewardship, but Green Party candidate Lia Versaevel and Liberal candidate Blair Herbert sought alternative provincial action. Versaevel sought protection for demonstrators by having the province engage with the RCMP over their tactics. Herbert sought to help forestry workers at the local level. The Conservative candidate did not engage with the CBC for the story [56].

Other coverage on Fairy Creek includes NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meeting with Climate Justice Toronto at a campaign stop. Climate Justice Toronto sought specific answers to questions about ending old-growth logging and asked Singh about Trans Mountain pipeline expansion within the context of reducing Canadian emissions [57].

News Coverage of Indigenous Opinions

The news coverage of Indigenous voices during the Fairy Creek protests focused on the conflict between the protesters at Fairy Creek and the Indigenous leaders of the Pacheedaht First Nation, as reported by the Toronto Star and the National Observer [58] [59]. The coverage also includes concerns from neighbouring First Nations: The Ditidaht First Nation and the Huu-ay-aht. It also features the disagreements between members of the Pacheedaht First Nation. In the Narwhal, Sarah Cox explored the disagreements and the reasons why elected chief council leader Jeff Jones supports the logging in Fairy Creek, however, elder Bill Jones supports the protesters [60] [61].

CTV News reported that the First Nations community leaders asked the protesters to leave the area (CTV News Vancouver Island, “First Nation says old-growth activists 'not welcome' in Fairy Creek area”), but the protesters did not leave. On April 1, 2021, the leaders of the Pacheedaht First Nation Jeff Jones and hereditary chief Frank Queesto Jones released a statement asking the protesters to leave and respect the rights of the Nations that own the land, according to the Times Colonist [60]. Frank Queesto Jones’ status as a hereditary chief is contested [60] [61] [62].

The non-Indigenous people who protest the logging at Fairy Creek point to Bill Jones’ support of the protests as a reason for staying in Fairy Creek [58]. In a media statement, released by the Rainforest Flying Squad, Bill Jones said, “I implore people to continue to stand with me to protect our forests from destruction and colonialism because we need allies on the ground to stop old-growth logging in my home territory, and for my future generations and relatives."[63]

On June 7, 2021, the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht leaders asked the B.C. government for a deferral of the logging of old-growth trees for two years which the government granted [61] [60] [64]. Protesters have said that the deferral of the logging is not enough [65].

News coverage of Indigenous voices also covered tensions with the RCMP reported by The Tyee[66]. News outlets such as Times Colonist, the Tyee, and the CBC also wrote about the history of protests against logging by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people comparing the Fairy Creek protests to the Clayoquot Sound protests in the 1990s, also known as “war in the woods” [67] [60] [56] [68].

News Coverage Challenges in Fairy Creek

Exclusion zones

Exclusion zones are commonly used in construction sites to block out people from being around high-risk activity such as moving machinery, transporting heavy objects or falling objects[69]. This definition can be applied to logging activity in Fairy Creek, as exclusion zones also work to block media and legal access and inhibit Indigenous people’s movement[70]. Since exclusion zones act as a physical barrier to the protests, there is a lack of public awareness about the RCMP’s enforcement action[71]. The RCMP’s use of exclusion zones during enforcement of injunctions has previously been seen in 2019-2020 in Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia, and in 2013 in Elsipogtog territory in New Brunswick.

Incidents between Journalists and the RCMP

As the protests continued into 2021, the RCMP attempted to curb the media coverage of the blockade through the use of exclusion zones and ‘designated media areas’. Within the designated media areas — which may be over one hundred feet from the protest site — journalists are not allowed to leave the specified area without an RCMP escort and are only allowed to stay while the media relations officer of the RCMP permits[72] [73]. These methods were employed following an injunction by the British Columbia Supreme Court, which also gave the RCMP permission to arrest demonstrators at Fairy Creek[74]. Multiple journalists, upon learning of the injunction, attempted to cover the enforcement at the blockade, but were stopped at an RCMP checkpoint and barred from entering the protest site on that day. The RCMP used tactics such as hanging a tarp to obscure the arrest of protesters, demanding reporters in the designated media areas remain silent, and threatening to arrest or arresting journalists who did not obey the exclusion zone restrictions [75] [76] [77].

Extinction Rebellion members during a protest in Vancouver. Photo by Leonardo DeGorter

Legal Action by the Press Against the RCMP

In May 2021, as a result of the use of exclusion zones and obstruction of press access by RCMP, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) filed legal action to compel the RCMP to allow better access to protest sites at Fairy Creek. The plaintiffs, which included several Canadian media outlets, argued that the enforcement of an injunction should not impede the ability of journalists to ‘report on matters of public interest’, while the RCMP argued that exclusion zones were necessary to do their jobs[78]. On July 20, 2021, the Supreme Court of British Columbia sided with the CAJ and Canadian media outlets, agreeing that the RCMP did not adequately justify the necessity for sweeping exclusion zones. Some journalists and free-press advocates see this as a reaffirmation of the precedent set in the Justin Brake case of 2016, and a step towards assuring press freedom in Canada for the future[79]. Despite the ruling, journalists on the ground at Fairy Creek have reported that photographers and reporters are still being refused access to the blockade or deterred from documenting the arrests, as of November 2021. In one instance, a photojournalist was detained and his equipment seized as a result of failing to move for the RCMP.

Social Media Coverage of the Fairy Creek Protests

Protesters and protectors of Fairy Creek have been bringing public awareness to the arrests of Fairy Creek through the use of social media[80]. The Rainforest Flying Squad, a non-violent group that is protecting the forest of Fairy Creek, has multiple Instagram accounts that share information about the blockade. Accounts such as @aunty_rainboweyez, @firekeeper_caaaw, @roninswanson, @rainforestflyingsquad and @fairycreekblockade provide other information on the blockade.

Additional Instances of Climate Activism in British Columbia

The Fridays for Future movement, started by Greta Thunberg in 2018, is a global movement supported by people of all ages. Based on school strikes, it became a way for students to protest climate inaction. In the past few years, the FFF movement has gained followers in many countries, including Canada[81].

Other movements also use non-violent civil disobedience acts to bring awareness to current environmental challenges. In British Columbia, the international environmental activism group Extinction Rebellion has blocked bridges and staged “sit-ins” across busy intersections. These demonstrations have received significant news coverage [82]. Environmental activists from groups such as Extinction Rebellion have also taken part in hunger strikes when attempting to open a dialogue with government officials [83].

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have established that human-related activities are the cause of the warming being experienced across the planet, and protests are viewed as the main way for citizens to express their concern about the lack of public policies which address climate change [84].


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