Denial of access

Last-minute RCMP notice on changes to enforcement area prevents media coverage at Fairy Creek demonstrations

A last-minute notice from the RCMP on changes to where enforcement of the Fairy Creek protests was being carried out prevented effective media coverage on May 25, 2021. 

FOCUS Magazine Victoria photojournalist Dawna Mueller showed up to the media meeting area near Port Renfrew on May 25, as instructed by the RCMP in an email to media sent on the evening of May 24. The RCMP did not show up, FOCUS Magazine reported.  

“Enforcement was planned for the Port Renfrew area but circumstances have changed and members are again in the Caycuse area, where enforcement started last week,” said the RCMP in an email response to Mueller’s editor. “Those plans literally changed based on the actions of protesters in the Caycuse area that were unexpected. Our plans had been to continue enforcement in the Port Renfrew area up until that moment. I apologize for the inconvenience.” 

It’s a “long, bumpy ride along logging roads from Port Renfrew to Caycuse,” reported FOCUS Magazine, which made it uncertain that media would be able to get to the Caycuse camp on time to cover the events. They also later reported that many arrests were carried out, making it likely the “busiest” day of enforcement seen thus far. 

This incident took place during protests against old-growth logging on southern Vancouver Island, on the territory of the Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations, between Aug. 9, 2020 and Sept. 28, 2021. 

Police enforcement, arrests, and most media coverage of the blockades took place after logging company Teal-Jones obtained an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court on April 1, 2021, which banned blockades of logging activities in the Fairy Creek and Caycuse watersheds

By Aug. 2021, the Fairy Creek blockades and protests were approaching the record for the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada’s history, reported The Narwhal.

Concerns over press freedoms arose during police enforcement in 2021 due to numerous incidents where media workers were denied access to raid sites, intimidated and arrested by the RCMP. 

On May 26, 2021, the Canadian Association of Journalists and a coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups, including Ricochet Media, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, APTN, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, The Discourse and IndigiNews, said they planned to take the RCMP to court over excessive restrictions on media.

The court ruled in their favour on July 20, 2021, with B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson affirming media rights by adding a clause to the injunction instructing the RCMP not to interfere with press access unless there was a clear and genuine operational reason to do so. 

Despite the court order, RCMP officers continued to restrict media access. Police arrested a Victoria Buzz photojournalist and seized his equipment at the main Fairy Creek blockade on Aug. 10, 2021, and threatened to arrest media workers or refused to allow them through police lines on multiple occasions after the ruling.

On Sept. 28, 2021, a B.C. Supreme Court justice refused to extend the initial injunction, saying RCMP enforcement of the order “led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree.” 

On Jan. 26, 2022, the B.C. Court of Appeal reinstated and extended the injunction to Sept. 26, 2022. 

The B.C. Supreme Court later extended the injunction again until Sept. 26, 2023. In that decision, Justice Thompson reiterated his earlier criticism of the RCMP’s media obstruction, noting that the RCMP’s “expansive exclusion zones, and associated checkpoints and searches, were unlawful, and that the degree of interference with liberties of members of the public and the media was substantial and serious.”