by C. L. Cook
Word came early this morning: Royal Canadian Mounted Police tactical teams and support officers from the Westshore detachment, moved in on a half-dozen protesters occupying a tree-sit in a small forested area slated for destruction to make way for a highway overpass. Three arrests were made and there are, as yet unconfirmed, reports of injuries sustained by the arrestees. The tree-sit has been continuously occupied since April of last year in efforts to raise public awareness and bring pressure to bear against what the activists say is the needless destruction of an area of unique geological and environmental importance and cultural significance to First Nations.
The proposed highway is meant to alleviate traffic congestion created by the sprawling ex-urban development known as Bear Mountain, but is recognized as the necessary gateway for a redoubling of development on Spaet Mountain, (renamed Bear Mountain for the Jack Nicklaus-designed center-piece golf course the upscale housing project surrounds).
The controversial project just outside Victoria, British Columbia has drawn sharp criticism for a number of reasons: The initial land purchase deal, tainted by perceptions of conflicts of interest regarding "gifted" crown land; a city councillor who made more than a million dollars on the deal, (and stands to gain millions more) failing to recuse himself on at least one crucial green-lighting vote; environmental impact assessments that failed to note a network of karst cave structures running below the proposed route of the highway; failure to adequately consult with local First Nations bands on cultural and historical issues at the site; and, shoddy archeology, combine to make Bear Mountain the poster-child of wrong-headed development.
As if to amplify the greed and stupidity of the Langford city mayor and council, the RCMP ride to the rescue in overwhelming force sets a startling new tone for contentious land use issues on Vancouver Island, of which there are many. Kalanu, one of three sitters up on the platforms in the canopy when the raid occurred, described between fifty and seventy police, many armed with assault rifles, "bean bag" shotguns, and accompanied by snarling police dogs, aiming their weapons at him, warning his safety could not be guaranteed if he did not exit the tree.
The sitters had liaised with local RCMP several times before the assault and had made clear theirs was a strictly non-violent protest. They reassured the police there were no weapons in the camp, but that meant little to the planners of a police production that must be worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Officers from up island and the mainland were brought in to join the Westshore detachment, and a police spokesperson told the press they would continue on at Langford to ensure security for an unspecified period yet. That bill will have to be picked up by the tax-payers of Langford, as will the costs for continued police oversight of the final destruction of the forest and sub-alpine meadows tree-sitters had protected for nearly a year.
As of writing, the entire area is a cordoned and flagged "red zone" against protest, or "trespass"; anyone caught there is subject to arrest. Much as the Republican regime of George W. Bush in the south has done with pesky policy protesters, the RCMP concede a tiny, gravel patched area away from the clear-cutting going on in the woods as an "O.K." protest corral.
Meeting in Victoria tonight, a group of forty or fifty activists planned strategy. While the loss of the woods is a tragic loss, the real battle is for what remains of the wild lands surrounding the city and slated next for destruction. And if today's scene is any indication, the game plan of ex-NHLer Len Barry and his consortium of developers is to destroy everything worth saving first, and leave it to the "greenies" to cry about the despoiling while he and his investors cash in on the last of the wilderness lands on southern Vancouver Island.
As you may have already heard by now, the tree sit has been forcefully removed from the end of Leigh Rd. and the destruction of this sacred area has already begun.
Last night I went to sleep up in the first tree sit platform. We knew we were facing some kind of showdown this morning, but we assumed it was going to be another attempt by the city to survey. We thought maybe they would be accompanied by RCMP officers willing to arrest people for obstruction.
Well, this morning, just before dawn, I watched from my platform as a half dozen flashlights appeared in the kitchen area below me. I watched as more flaslights arrived and began to quickly scatter throughout the forest. As the sun came up I noticed about a dozen RCMP officers at the bottom of my tree, and they noticed me. In the next hour, as they attempted to talk me down, more offiers arrived, some armed with assault rifles (weapons that look like machine guns) and 'less-lethal' bean bag shotguns.
I asked them if they had an injunction and they informed me that I was to be arrested for mischief, though they could not name which section of the criminal code they were referring to.
I continued to refuse and they continued to move forward.
At one point I saw one of the SWAT team members fiddling with something on his assault rifle, as another officer infomed me that there was no one left in the woods but myself and lots of cops. I was told that neither my lawyer, my support team or media would be allowed in the forest. At this point I was getting quite worried for my safety. I was again informed that the only safe way for me to come down would be voluntarily, and when I notced a half dozen people in climbing gear I made the decision to come down from the tree and try to find out whether everyone else had gotten arrested or whether a call had been made for more support to show up.
I was handcuffed, read my rights, had my knife taken away and was led out of the forest.
On my way out i passed literally dozens of SWAT team looking fellas, some with dogs, everyone with lots of gear, spread out all around the woods, keeping a perimter and standing guard at every possible trail junction.
To say it was overkill is an understatement.
As I was lead away I could hear my brothers, Noah and Luke, shouting from their platforms, and the last thing I heard from Luke was him yelling "Free the Buffalo!!" (refering to me if you couldn't guess).
Noah held out for a few hours before they extracted him, and Luke held out another couple hours after that. It sounds like Luke had a bit of fun with the traverse lines before they finally got him down. The climbers would ascend one tree, and Luke would traverse to the other.
We learned this from a few brief phone calls Luke made from his cell phone before we lost contact with him. Otherwise, none of us had any contact with the other tree sitters after I was led out. A huge perimeter was set up, those of us arrested were told we would be arrested again if we came anywhere near it, and even the press were not allowed anywhere near the area.
Not soon after I came out, a huge feller/buncher machine came by. This is a giant machine capable of harvesting many trees at once. It has to be one of the more destructive pieces of machinery I've ever seen. I started yelling at the driver to go home, that we weren't letting him in, and two other people stood in the middle of the road to block it's path. One of those two people was Ingmar, who has been quoted in the media enough times over this issue that he has been targeted as a 'leader'. The RCMP wasted no time in slamming Ingmar to the ground and hauling him off to jail.
Three of my brothers, who I love dearly, are still in jail as of this writing, and we have no idea when they will be let out. We are told they are waiting to be processed by a justice of the peace over the phone from Vancouver and that it may happen tonight, and it may happen tomorrow morning. Several of us went down to the police station as soon as they took Luke out and asked about the arrestees and given many conflicting stories from the officers as to when we could expect to see our brothers again.
From there we went to the storage facility where our belongings from the treesit were being stored. We managed to claim some equipment and personal gear, but a few personal backpacks and sleeping bags, not to mention a half dozen bikes and the Food Not Bombs bike cart were taken to the dump. Our ropes and climbing harnesses (with the exception of the one I wore out of the forest) have been seized as evidence.
Two of the other campers (who were woken earlier today with machine guns and attack dogs in their face, arrested and released) have had their sleeping bags thrown away. This on top of the fact that their home has just been bulldozed.
I still have not had a chance to properly grieve the loss of this beautiful place, and I have no idea what to do next. I feel, to quote one of the other tree sitters, like I have lost a limb. This land is more than sacred to me and I when I finish this email, a long, brutal day will wind down and I will shed many tears.
And I will think of my heroes, my brothers, Luke and Noah and Ingmar, and hope they will be released tonight and be able to sleep tonoght with people who love them. (Of which there are many.)
We lost a great deal today, more than most people will ever know. The owls returned to nest this week, along with other migratory birds, and I could hear them chirping even as the trees were being cut. Yesterday I was ecstatic to discover new young nettle plants sprouting near the kitchen. Today I am devastated because it is all gone. So much food and medicine. Gone. Another piece of priceless First Nations heritage, gone. It is too much for me and I am going to wrao it up here, as I've said enough.
Many thanks to everyone who came out this morning to witness and who have vowed to continue fighting. This is not over. This is far from over. A serious crime against nature has been committed today and we will never forget that.
Much love and respect and see you all soon.
-in solidarity with all life,
“Our work will be unfinished until not one human being is hungry or
battered, not one single person is forced to die in war, not one innocent languishes imprisoned and no one is persecuted for his or her beliefs."