Seventeen people have been arrested for blocking Salisbury Creek Forest Service Road near Argenta.
RCMP said in a news release that they moved in on Tuesday to enforce an injunction granted to Cooper Creek Cedar on Aug. 27, 2019 which prevents anyone from impeding the company’s efforts to log in the area.
Police say they were notified of the blockade on April 25 and an officer told the group they were in breach of the injunction and could be arrested for mischief and contempt of court if they continued.
RCMP say they also asked protesters to leave peacefully in the first week of May.
“Those people were read a copy of the injunction [on Tuesday], given the opportunity to peacefully leave or stop blocking the road, but they chose not to and for that reason they were arrested to prevent the continuation of that offence,” Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said.
Of the 17 arrested for civil contempt, one was removed from a locking device. Eight were released on conditions with a court date of July 19 while nine others were taken to the Kaslo RCMP detachment for speak privately with counsel. All have since been released as well.
Shoihet said police would return to the site today to ensure the road remains open, but she had not heard as of 9:30 this morning what the situation was.
She said the arrests were carried out by the RCMP’s community-industry response group with help from a tactical unit, but she did not know the exact number of officers on site.
“We certainly support people’s right to demonstrate lawfully, peacefully and safely but the blocking of roadways become unlawful and certainly unsafe,” she said. “We don’t want to have to arrest people, but we will in case where they are no longer lawful, peaceful, or safe.”
Lawyer Noah Ross, who has been advising the protesters, wrote on Twitter that a team of about 30 to 40 officers was involved in the “extrajudicial rapid-arrest without due process” and that of those arrested, “many … appear not to have been in breach of [the] injunction.”
Ross also said many of those arrested were not given a chance to avoid being taken into custody and that he arrests “appear to be without a strong legal basis. This is concerning due to the repeated civil liberties infringements caused by [community-industry response group] enforcement of injunctions.”
Ross said as the arrests were for civil contempt, the prosecution will be led privately by Cooper Creek Cedar.
The protesters oppose the logging of the Argenta Face. Many residents have called for the area to be added to the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy.
Nelson resident Miguel Pastor, 17, was one of the last to be arrested but says police overstepped their bounds, as only a couple of people were actually blocking the road.
“One lady decided she would block the road, so she locked herself into a sleeping dragon, clipped herself into a tube cemented into the road,” he said in an interview.
“I communicated I wasn’t interested in blocking the road. I was only there to facilitate safety of [the woman] who was locked into a device.”
Pastor said he visited the camp off and on over the last three weeks. An RCMP liaison showed up several times, and protesters were under the impression that enforcement action would take place Tuesday.
After the injunction was read over a megaphone, police began making arrests. Pastor said that included “legal observers” and anyone else who tried to talk to them.
“These people were not intending to be arrested, they were not blocking the road, they had no interest in blocking the road. The group was pushed up the Salisbury Forest Service Road by this wall of cops and anyone who tried to reason with them, talk to them whatsoever, was arrested under the injunction.”
Pastor said he was not sure if everyone present was arrested, or if some people were allowed to leave.
He was placed in a police vehicle with eight others and driven to the Duncan River bridge, where they were given the option of signing a document agreeing to conditions and being released, or being taken to the Kaslo detachment to speak to a lawyer.
Pastor said from his understanding, the road was clear following the arrests. He is not sure if anyone will return.