An altercation between logging contractors and activists in the Walbran Valley this week where an Indigenous man was allegedly assaulted and racial slurs hurled at protesters is being condemned as “completely unacceptable” by the company and First Nation that own the forestry tenure.
Huumiis Ventures, a Huu-ay-aht First Nation company, and Western Forest Products issued a joint statement Thursday through their limited partnership, saying the incident on Tuesday is being treated with the “utmost seriousness and urgency.”
They said Lake Cowichan RCMP and WorkSafe B.C. have been notified and the logging contractor is being asked to investigate the role of its employees in the incident, in which a young Indigenous man sustained minor injuries.
Huumiis and Western also said they are appointing a special advisor to review the incident and that the United Steelworkers — the main union of Island forestry workers — is co-operating with the probe.
TFL 44 Limited Partnership also said all logging in the area has been paused pending the outcome of the investigations.
Two cellphone videos taken by members of the Rainforest Flying Squad protest group early Tuesday afternoon showed a tense standoff between activists opposed to old-growth logging and about 10 members of a contracted logging crew who were trying to access a cut block.
The logging crew is shown shouting at the protesters, with one worker lunging at a man filming the exchange and allegedly slapping the cellphone out of his hand. The group alleges the man was also assaulted.
“Go home and collect your welfare cheque,” yells one contracted worker.
Another shouts: “You and your f—king teepees.”
A video clip showed a young Indigenous man, identified by activists as G., with ripped clothing and a bloody gash on his leg and knee.
Activists claim three of the contracted workers tried to force G. to the ground as a fourth man hit him.
His phone, which he had been using to film, was punched out of his hand and then stolen, they said.
John Jack, chairman of Huumiis Ventures LP, and Shannon Janzen, chairwoman of the TFL 44 Limited Partnership board, said in the statement that the behaviour of the individuals in the video is “completely unacceptable and is entirely at odds with our shared values.”
“The use of racist language, intimidation and acts of violence have no place in our society or our workplaces, and we have zero tolerance for such behaviour,” they said. “We are fully supportive of the right to peaceful and legal protest and the obligation of all forest companies, including TFL 44 LP, to provide a safe work environment. We appreciate that there may be disagreements about how our forests are managed in British Columbia, but we expect those disagreements to be addressed in a respectful manner, free from violence and racism.”
The Rainforest Flying Squad said it set up a “watch camp” at the site as part of the group’s “nonviolent direct action to protect old-growth forests” near Port Renfrew, which includes Fairy Creek.
“This camp is not a blockade,” the activists say.
The Rainforest Flying Squad said it is no longer naming its members because Teal Jones, which holds a Tree Farm Licence in the Fairy Creek area, has started serving court papers to individuals who have been identified in the media
The group said forestry workers drove into the watch camp in four trucks with muddied licence plates.
“They threatened us and our families,” said one activist in a statement. “The men walked towards the four youth in the camp, racially targeting the Indigenous youth. While all youth were threatened, the physical violence and verbal abuse was explicitly anti-Indigenous.”
The Rainforest Flying Squad said it wasn’t the first encounter with logging crews. The group alleged that on Monday afternoon, a group of forestry workers made threats to three people while holding axes, tire irons and crow bars.
In the same afternoon on the same road, several protesters in their vehicles were blocked in and prevented from leaving by forestry vehicles for a period of time.
The following day, on a separate road, trees were felled across the road to prevent them from moving, said the Rainforest Flying Squad.
“At no time has [Rainforest Flying Squad] been violent or promoted violence,” the group said. “These attacks have been fueled by industry and colonialism, encouraged by the NDP government’s failure to act by deferring threatened old growth forests from logging.”
Elder William Jones, a member of the Pacheedaht First Nation, called the assault a “racist” act.
Kati George-Jim, Jones’ niece, said Indigenous people were targeted with violence for disrupting industry.
“The loggers broke our laws, and they broke colonial law as well,” she said. “The fundamental laws of our coastal peoples are based in reciprocity and respect for all relatives, and consensual relationships. We honour all past, present and future generations by protecting the integrity of our shared mother earth.”
The TFL 44 Limited Partnership said the special advisor reviewing the incident will meet any of those involved who are willing to be interviewed, along with other interested parties, and prepare a report, including recommendations, “as soon as possible on how to ensure continued safe forestry operations.”
Jack said all TFL 44 contractors and crews have also received a repeat briefing on the “critical importance of adhering to forest operation safety and already-established public protest protocols.”
The TFL 44 LP board said it will meet with Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations leadership to provide an update on the incident and seek their advice and input on further steps to be taken.