In the early hours of the morning on May 20, several people at Caycuse Camp in Ditidaht territory were violently arrested by RCMP who acted behind a temporary exclusion zone prohibiting media and other legal observers.
Caycuse Camp, located in the Caycuse watershed near Port Renfrew, is one of many camps set up by old-growth forest defenders, to prevent the company Teal-Jones, a Surrey-based forestry company, from logging some of the last remaining old-growth forests on Vancouver Island.
People have been protesting logging in the area for months, but when Teal-Jones obtained an injunction last week, police presence intensified.
Police began making arrests on May 17 and have been steadily clearing people out of various sites, according to Laura Mina Mitic who has been acting as a police liaison for the past month and a half, working on a dialogue between protesters and police, which she says “hasn’t gotten very far.”
Mitic and others had been situated at the Caycuse Camp before police enforced the injunction and pushed them out, pulling tape across the road and setting up a number of large vehicles to prevent any access into the camp.
“They’ve put up a lot of closed doors,” Mitic says during an interview at the exclusion zone outside Caycuse Camp. “We’ve been up against a lack of answers, a lack of accountability, and frankly a lack of respect.”
Mitic spoke just hours after a number of people who were inside the camp were violently arrested by police, including xʷ is xʷ čaa, also known as Kati George-Jim, who was tackled by two RCMP and grabbed by her hood as she yelled “I can’t breathe.”
The Caycuse Camp was given 24-hour notice to leave the site on Monday, May 17, before facing arrest, Mitic tells IndigiNews.
“During those 24 hours, at least for the first 15 hours, no media were allowed on site, and we were literally under siege in camp,” adds Marija Uzunova Dang, another supporter at the Caycuse Camp. “There were no media allowed to come and witness, only a few outlets were able to get in that night and a few the next day, but we haven’t been able to get any supporters in to the camp.”
“The two main roads leading into camp were blocked and there was only open one way. People were allowed to leave, but no external support, no medics, no legal observers, no media, for the most part of that first 24 hours were allowed to enter,” Dang says.
She means the camp about 8 kilometres behind the police checkpoint. When IndigiNews requested permission to enter the camp, to witness what remained of the site, and whether or not there were still people inside, access was denied by RCMP officers who said they would escort media in if and when another enforcement was taking place.
Since then, no legal observers or supporters have been allowed in, Dang adds, and very restricted media access.
Wednesday night, the groups received an email from the police, saying that no enforcement would take place the next day. Dang says some media representatives showed up at 7:30 in the morning, but were turned away, told again that no enforcement would be taking place.
But within half an hour, RCMP violently arrested people inside the camp.
“The only reason we have that account is because there were two people that happened to be there,” Dang says.
Trigger warning: the following video shows violent arrests.
Those arrested Thursday morning have since been released. The video seen above was shared on the Fairy Creek Blockade Instagram page, but the account has since been suspended and blocked to the public.
“They have told us frustratingly little, which is a part of their tactics,” says Mitic. “I think they will continue to restrict media and therefore restrict eyes on what’s going on back there, to try and mitigate public scrutiny of their actions.”
‘Indigenous peoples are used against our own peoples’
People have been defending the Caycuse watershed for close to six weeks, before the police raid, while Fairy Creek Blockade has been in place since August, 2020.
First Nations of the region are divided on who has the authority to consent to logging old growth, but that hasn’t stopped George-Jim from amplifying the voice of her uncle Bill Jones of Pacheedaht First Nation.
“Currently and historically there hasn’t been any respect for our land, for the Pacheedaht and for all of our Indigenous lands and forests,” Bill Jones stated in an interview with his niece George-Jim.
“The Peter(s) family, as far as our oral history allows, has always been here. They are the governing authority and are responsible for this valley. Frank Jones claiming himself as a hereditary chief is false. He is not eligible to make the claim for the Jones family line, and is not informed by the hereditary system amongst our peoples.”
“In fact, the Jones family is not originally from the territory, and have no chief rights to the San Juan valley. We have historically been from Cla-oose. The Jones family is ancestral to this place, through many intermarriages and ties to the land, but that is within the last 400 years.”
George-Jim says “it is not for Western or colonial society to decide who is or what is hereditary, or a non-colonial governance, but it is up to the outside society to understand that it is a tactic to use Indigenous people to fit colonial government agendas.”
“Indigenous peoples are used against our own peoples and families, becoming another resource exploited by colonial actors,” she says. “The British crown is dependent on colonial rule of law, carried out by the federal and provincial governments, policies and police, which all explicitly seek to undermine the inherent rights and responsibilities of Indigenous peoples.”
It was George-Jim’s first time being arrested, for what she says is “practicing her ancestral duty.”
“I was walking, I was a legal observer, there was no dialogue,” she says.
She was charged with assaulting a police officer and obstruction of justice.
Police have been seen covering their actions with large blue tarps, which constable Alex Bérubé, RCMP media relations officer says is for “public safety.”
When asked about the use of tarps, Bérubé says it is to prevent people from seeing their tactics and trying to repeat them in the future.
“We don’t want the public to use those tactics in the future, potentially endangering themselves or the police officers down the road,” he says. “Every person we deal with will have its own risk assessment, that’s why there’s always ongoing communication.”
On May 18, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) released a statement, calling on the courts to limit the powers of the RCMP and police, when issuing injunctions.
“The RCMP and other police agencies have failed to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when executing injunctions,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly.
“The key problem stems from a clause typically included in most injunctions which gives police broad discretionary powers to detain or arrest anyone violating the order or interfering with police actions,” the release states. “In spirit, the clause is meant to allow police to remove demonstrators who are the subject of the injunction. However, the police have repeatedly used the cause to deny access to journalists, to arrest them, or detain them.”
CAJ invites any media attempting to report on the Fairy Creek and associated blockades who experience police interference to be in touch as the events continue to unfold.