Denial of access

RCMP deny CBC crew vehicle access to Fairy Creek protest site

RCMP officers refused to allow a CBC vehicle through a checkpoint on a road leading to a protest site near Fairy Creek, forcing the crew to make a 14-kilometre round-trip hike to access the area. 

The CBC crew, covering protests against logging in the old-growth forest on Aug. 26, 2021, were stopped at an RCMP checkpoint near Port Renfrew which controlled access to the protest area, reported CBC

RCMP corporal Ian Sim told the journalists that they would not be allowed to drive their vehicle into the area – although they had done so in the past – and police would not drive them up the road, because of “logistical and liability concerns,” reported CBC. 

Sim told journalists that “it was his first week working in the area, and he was following orders,” reported CBC. 

To access the protest site and document as RCMP officers arrested protesters, CBC journalists hiked seven kilometres each direction, carrying camera equipment, in the rain. 

CBC reported that, once journalists were on the scene, RCMP officers allowed them to work and interview protesters. 

An RCMP sergeant later apologized to the CBC and said journalists should be allowed vehicle access to the area.

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.”