VANCOUVER — A court injunction against old-growth logging protests on Vancouver Island has been extended until next fall in a British Columbia Court of Appeal decision that overturns a lower-court ruling.  

In a unanimous decision Wednesday, a panel of three judges granted the appeal by forestry company Teal Cedar Products Ltd. of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that denied the company’s application to extend the injunction by one year. 

More than 1,100 people have been arrested while protesting old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek area near Port Renfrew, about 110 kilometres west of Victoria. 

Company spokesman Conrad Browne said some timber harvesting activities are now taking place. 

“There are areas that we can’t get to because of winter weather, but that doesn’t preclude us from going and harvesting other areas in tree farm licence 46,” said Browne, who is Teal Cedar’s director of Indigenous engagement and strategic relations.

The company is pleased the court granted the appeal and extended the injunction until Sept. 26, he said.

“Given the reading of the reasons in their decision to do this, it is quite telling and very supportive of all of the arguments we put in front of the courts,” Browne said.

The court panel overturned the lower-court ruling, saying the judge erred in denying Teal Cedar’s application to extend the injunction.

“The public interest in upholding the rule of law continues to be the dominant public interest in cases involving civil disobedience against a private entity,” says the written decision from the panel. 

In September, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson refused to extend the injunction, saying police enforcement at the Fairy Creek site led to serious infringements of civil liberties including freedom of the press.

He said the factors in favour of extending the injunction did not outweigh the public interest in protecting the court’s reputation. 

However, the Appeal Court panel said the court’s reputation isn’t depreciated by granting an injunction to stop unlawful conduct. 

“The conduct of police does not tarnish the reputation of the court; the court and police are constitutionally independent,” the decision says. 

A lawyer representing the protesters, known as the Rainforest Flying Squad, said the decision was a disappointment and his clients are considering their next steps. 

“There’s the possibility of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Malcolm Funt. “In our view these issues of climate change and ecological destruction are of significant national importance.”

During a two-day Appeal Court hearing in November, a lawyer for Teal Cedar argued that the company has the right to pursue its economic interests while facing an organized protest campaign that disrupts its legal right to harvest timber. 

Company lawyer Dean Dalke told the court the lower-court judge made a mistake in concluding the court’s reputation would be diminished by extending the injunction.

The panel agreed.

“In conclusion, and with respect, we are of the view that the judge erred by giving weight to irrelevant considerations and by giving too little weight to the public interest in upholding the rule of law, which must be the dominant consideration in all cases involving significant and persistent acts of civil disobedience.”

The Rainforest Flying Squad issued a statement Wednesday saying protesters are losing patience with the B.C. government’s refusal to stop the logging of the province’s old-growth forests.

“Now our court system further protects corporate rights above those of its citizens,” says Kathleen Code, a defendant and member of the Rainforest Flying Squad, in the statement.

Teal Jones said in a statement Wednesday that more than half of the old-growth forest in the area it is logging is protected, including the Fairy Creek watershed. It also says large areas within the tree farm licence have been protected in the past 30 years, including the 16,500-hectare Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.

“We also believe that forestry can harvest responsible amounts of both old- and second-growth forest, based on science and engagement with local First Nations,” the statement says. 

The B.C. government announced an old-growth logging deferral program last year. 

A temporary injunction preventing protests against logging activities in the Fairy Creek area had been in place since September.

— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.

The Canadian Press