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15 Fairy Creek land defenders sued for $10M by Teal-Jones

Defendants say the lawsuit is meant to silence old growth activists

Robyn Bell
January 29, 2024
Forestry
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

15 Fairy Creek land defenders sued for $10M by Teal-Jones

Defendants say the lawsuit is meant to silence old growth activists

Robyn Bell
Jan 29, 2024
A road blockade at Fairy Creek. Photo: Harley Gordon / Capital Daily
A road blockade at Fairy Creek. Photo: Harley Gordon / Capital Daily
Forestry
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

15 Fairy Creek land defenders sued for $10M by Teal-Jones

Defendants say the lawsuit is meant to silence old growth activists

Robyn Bell
January 29, 2024
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15 Fairy Creek land defenders sued for $10M by Teal-Jones
A road blockade at Fairy Creek. Photo: Harley Gordon / Capital Daily

Things have been quiet lately in the Fairy Creek watershed. Logging in the area has been deferred until 2025 and the injunction that prevented protesters from blocking the area expired months ago. But for those who were on the frontlines of the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, the fight rages on—this time, in the courts.

Logging company Teal-Jones Group, has ramped up its lawsuit against Fairy Creek blockaders, with 15 individuals and one company, Atleo River Air Service, named in their suit against the group, nicknamed the Rainforest Flying Squad (RFS).

All 15 people named have been accused of conspiracy to cause Teal-Jones—the largest privately owned logging company in BC—losses in revenue. If the company wins, those named in the suit could be on the hook for $10M.

What the lawsuit says

The suit claims that the protesters “conspired to use unlawful means to conduct the blockades,” with their primary aim of protesting being to injure Teal-Jones. Acts like gathering materials for the protest, encouraging people over social media to join the movement and fundraising through sites like GoFundMe and FundRazr are listed as acts within this conspiracy.

But as one of the defendants Angela Davidson, also known as Rainbow Eyes, says, their main objective was to protect the last old growth forests on the Island.

“Elder [Bill] Jones has said so beautifully that it’s been a conspiracy of love—that’s the only conspiracy at play,” said Davidson, a deputy leader for the Green Party. 

While the Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations have officially permitted cutting in the tree-farming licensed (TFL) 46 block, which includes the Fairy Creek watershed, not every nation member is on board with the loss of old growth on their land.

One of the 14 individuals listed is Elder Bill Jones, a prominent voice at Fairy Creek. Jones, a Pacheedaht elder, has vocally opposed Teal-Jones’ cutting in the region, sending an open invitation for people to come to his land to protect the old growth in 2020.

“The fact that Elder Bill Jones is a part of it just makes it that much more of a colonial circus,” said Davidson. “It’s just such an offense. We’re all looking forward to hearing what his lawyer says because it is his territory and it was under his invitation that we all went to protect the last of the old growth trees.”

As the movement grew throughout 2020 and 2021, thousands joined the blockades or showed support online, including celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Cole Sprouse. More than 1,100 people were arrested while blockading. For the 15 accused, the singling out of their names on the lawsuit feels like an arbitrary move.

“They could have chosen any of the thousands of people,” said Davidson. “But for some reason they chose this 15 and it’s unclear [why].”

Keith Cherry, who’s named in the suit, says that it seems to target people who used their names on legal documents, like the injunction appeal filed in 2021, rather than focusing on arrests.

“Some of the defendants haven’t been arrested at all and hundreds and hundreds of people were arrested who aren’t named in the suit,” said Cherry. 

Davidson says they chose “people who are incredible speakers” to make an example of them.

Cherry’s legal counsel, former Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt, says those who have been most vocally opposed to the logging in the region have been singled out.

“It appears that Teal Cedar is targeting individuals who have spoken out against the provincial government’s determination to liquidate the last stands of old growth rainforest on southern Vancouver Island,” said Isitt.

He says that politics are “front and centre” in this suit. 

“There’s certainly a power imbalance in terms of a large logging company…working closely with the provincial government on the liquidation strategy to get rid of the last stands of old forest.”

He says the defendants were speaking out to hold the NDP to their 2020 election promise of deferring old growth. It’s been over three years since the NDP committed to implementing 14 recommendations in the Old Growth Strategic Review and environment organizations say none of the recommendations have been fulfilled. Further restrictions on logging have been called for to protect endangered species in the region, like the marbled murrelet

In November, the federal and provincial governments, along with the First Nation Leadership Council, signed a $1B nature conservation agreement, considered one of the most significant investment plans in Canadian history. In the release, three ministers and Premier David Eby reference protection of old growth as a key focus of the agreement, with $50M going to identification and restoration of these forests.

“The public should be concerned about the attempt to silence advocates of the old growth forests of this Island,” said Isitt.

“A silencer”

Davidson calls the lawsuit “a silencer,” explaining that “it’s used to scare us to stop us from organizing.”

Cherry echoed this, saying the $10M Teal-Jones is seeking in damages is not the main purpose of the suit.

“I don’t think the intention is to actually recoup their losses,” said Cherry. “The intention of the suit is to cost us a lot of time and money and therefore deter future activists.

“They want to make it punitive for people to engage in activism.”

Isitt says that characterizing the lawsuit as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP suit, is “not inaccurate” and pursuing an anti-SLAPP motion is an avenue counsel may consider. BC has had anti-SLAPP legislation since 2019 when the Protection of Public Participation Act was introduced.

Who is the Rainforest Flying Squad?

Another point of contention is defining the Rainforest Flying Squad. Teal-Jones says they’re a highly organized group with members determined to hurt the logging company’s revenue. Protesters say it was an informal name given to the blockades, with no definition of membership. 

“Thinking that thousands and thousands went there, but some were members and some weren’t,” said Davidson. “They’re making the Rainforest Flying Squad into some sort of organization, but it was so free formed.”  

“It was just a T-shirt,” Glen Reid, another defendant, added.

Isitt says defining what RFS is and who are considered members would be a “major issue” if the suit were to go to trial.

“It seems very arbitrary,” he said. “What is the Rainforest Flying Squad? Is it anything more than a brand or a slogan?”

RFS has identified itself as “a volunteer driven, grassroots, non-violent direct action movement.” They were the main organizing group at the height of the Fairy Creek blockades, with a large social media following (they currently have over 33K followers on Instagram), where they called for public support for the movement. The group claimed ownership of the blockades and camps set up throughout 2020 and 2021. Some of the individuals named in the lawsuit were considered key organizers of RFS. But members of the group remained constantly in flux as hundreds of people came and went from the blockades. 

There have been groups by other names involved in blockades at Fairy Creek as well. This summer, three arrests were made when a group identifying as separate from RFS, going by Savage Patch, built a large owl statue to block logging-related traffic heading near Edinburgh Mountain by Port Renfrew.

Other cases in the courts

Davidson was convicted this week on seven counts of criminal contempt after 20 days in court. She has argued that police had targeted her as a visibly Indigenous woman. Judge Christopher Hinkson said that while it was clear she was targeted, it was because of her repeated defiance of the injunction. Davidson continued to return to the blockades, breaching both the injunction and condition of release order after her arrests. 

As a Kwakwaka’wakw woman, she became a land guardian at a young age, growing up with an understanding that protecting forests and animals on the Island is a sacred duty for her, which she argued took precedence. The crown disputed that her role as land guardian allowed her to break the injunction order. Sentencing for Davidson has not yet taken place.

Blockaders are also taking action in court against Teal-Jones—they’ve sued the logging company for towing cars that weren’t blocking roads, saying the company had no right to remove the vehicles or demand payment for their return.

They also plan to hold the RCMP accountable for their actions at the blockades. A class action suit was filed against the RCMP in March and could include hundreds of people who say they were treated with aggressive behaviour by the C-IRG unit.

Outlook on the future of the case

As the defendants wait for the next steps of the lawsuit, they remain optimistic that Teal-Jones’ case will not hold up. Still the lawsuit hangs heavily over their heads.

“It’s stressful and scary to potentially be held liable for amounts that large,” said Cherry.

“Most activists aren’t wealthy people; those two things tend to be pretty mutually exclusive.” 

But he knows conspiracy is a hard case to make and the support from followers of the movement has been comforting. 

“I’ve had quite a few people from Fairy Creek reach out to support,” said Cherry, explaining that a fundraiser was started in their name to help ease the burden of legal fees. At the time of publishing, the fundraiser reached over $60K in donations.

Capital Daily reached out to Teal-Jones Group for comment but did not receive a response.

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Robyn Bell
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15 Fairy Creek land defenders sued for $10M by Teal-Jones
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