Capital Daily

What the “War in the Woods” Can Tell Us About Fairy Creek

Episode Summary

We look back at the protests in Clayoquot Sound to see what we can learn about how the Fairy Creek blockades could end and how big this movement could grow.

Episode Notes

We look back at the protests in Clayoquot Sound to see what we can learn about how the Fairy Creek blockades could end and how big this movement could grow.  

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Episode Transcription

Jackie: Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Thursday, June 3. Welcome to the Capital Daily Podcast. Today on the show, we look back at the War in the Woods to get a sense of how the Fairy Creek blockades could end and how much more this movement could grow. The Clayoquot Sound protests or the War in the Woods, like Fairy Creek, were mass protests against old-growth logging. They took place in Clayoquot Sound, which is near Tofino. The protests came to a climax in mid-1993 when 900 people were arrested. It was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. After years of action and 1000s of people involved, Clayoquot Sound was recognized as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the year 2000. That's 16 years after the first blockades were set up. To learn more about that protest and find out what we can take from that movement as we try to look forward to what comes next for Fairy Creek. We speak to someone who was there. Tzeporah Berman is a program director at and an adjunct professor. She was also a blockade coordinator at Clayoquot, and she was just recently arrested at the Fairy Creek blockades. After we speak to her, we'll also hear from co-producer Emily Vance about her experience this past Saturday, when 2000 people flooded the Waterfall Camp and marched through the RCMP exclusion zone. Tzeporah Berman joined us just before John Horgan spoke on Tuesday. Tzeporah, thank you so much for joining the podcast. 

Tzeporah: Thanks for having me. 

Jackie: Can you First tell me what your experience at Fairy Creek was like?

Tzeporah: In a lot of ways, it felt like going back in time because I spent months on the road and the blockade and Clayoquot Sound and there were a lot of similarities, though there definitely were some differences. But I had forgotten what it's like to be in a place where you have a common purpose with people who you've never met who come from all walks of life. And I think that was the thing that I'll remember most about Fairy Creek beside the incredible forests that I got to visit, but it was the people and Indigenous youth sitting next to ageing, white scientists. And the fact that the woman who's running the headquarters camp turns out to be an Olympic gold medalist, a swimmer, you just meet people from all walks of life, but they're all there with the sense of common purpose. Everyone rolls up their sleeves, and everyone's doing everything from digging latrines to talking strategy. And I love that; this is the sense of a real community digging in together, and even people who would never normally talk to each other. That was incredible, but there were lots of heart-wrenching and devastating parts. I didn't like what I saw of what the RCMP was doing there. I felt like they were compromising people's safety by putting these huge exclusion zones, let alone our rights to free speech and to protest. I get it; they can't aid people in violating the injunction. But it's pretty obvious who's there to do civil disobedience and who's not. So the people who are not there to do civil disobedience should be able to bear witness to the logging and to what's happening. And then I guess my other big first impression was just the forest. I've been at this stuff for a long time. I had the privilege to be in temperate and tropical rainforests and see some of the last vestiges of old-growth all over the planet. And when I saw Fairy Creek, I couldn't believe it was so close to Victoria. I'd never even been there before. Like I walked into the headwaters, and they're 1000-year-old trees. They're 2000 years old ones and some of the stumps in the clear cuts around Caycuse; it's heart-wrenching, absolutely heart-wrenching. I was in awe really of those forests that are left, and the road goes right up to the headwaters. I didn't realize how close it was. They're days away from logging those headwaters. So this isn't just a ceremonial protest; they're physically blocking that logging.

Jackie: Why does this compare to Clayoquot? 

Tzeporah: I mean, there are some obvious similarities like it was a BC NDP government as well, that I think some of us on the left thought we wouldn't be going head to head with. And we certainly were; it was the BC NDP government that made a decision to log the majority of Clayoquot despite many scientific recommendations, saying that they shouldn't. And we're in that situation again. The basic government's own expert panel has said you have to urgently protect at-risk old-growth. And now it's another BC NDP government that's allowing this logging to happen and has broken his promises. So that's the obvious similarity. The other is just the level of support for the protection and for the protests at Fairy Creek. I was at Fairy Creek one night, and these cars, these fancy Teslas pulled up from Victoria, people got out and started unloading this fancy gourmet food like truffle hummus. And remembering Clayoquot, trucks were pulling up from bakeries and Victoria and the support that poured out from across the province. And that's almost thirty years ago. And you see it again today. Business leaders and scientists are leading a huge outpour of sport. And that feels really similar. But in Clayoquot, we had a hard time getting the word out. We had a hard time getting the images out. We had no internet. There were no cell phones; we were doing everything by fax. Now, you can be connected to thousands in seconds. So that's an obvious difference. And I think Clayoquot was big, but if they let Fairy Creek go on much longer, it's going to be much bigger because it's so easy to spread the word. It was also hard for us to get people there. It's a five-hour drive from Victoria, but it's an hour and a half to arrive at Fairy Creek. Yeah, it's much easier to get people to get the images of what's happening quicker. People can organize with each other quicker because of social media and because of our capacity to communicate with each other now compared to 27 years ago. And there's so little left, a lot of the younger people that I met in their 20s and 30s, or even their teens at Fairy Creek; they've all grown up with the ecological collapse and the climate crisis. They know what's at stake; they know how little is left. So there's a sense of urgency that wasn't around 27 years ago.

Jackie: Actually, just speaking as somebody in my 20s, it's so true. I grew up with this idea, just like pounded into me, that our environment was at risk and that we need to do something. And that's just been there. It's been my parents; it's been my grandparents; it's been my teachers, everybody while growing up. That's the exact thing, no wonder my generation is so active in this. That's what we will do because it's been drilled into us.

Tzeporah: And you see it all around you, the thing about Clayoquot that took so long to make it into a thing was that people couldn't believe it was happening. They're like, "Wait, what do you mean? This is an old-growth rainforest, and it's being logged to make phone books? That can't be happening." It was that kind of huge scandal. We kicked open the door to the War in the Woods that became, a decade later, the War in the Woods that protected the Great Bear Rainforest, etc., because people didn't know what was happening. In some respects, this is the same because I think a lot of people thought because we protected a lot of climate sound because we protected a lot of the Great Bear that old-growth logging doesn't happen anymore in BC, so there's that similarity, but there's also just your generation not being surprised that it's happening and ready to take action. Quite frankly, I met a lot of people who were just really, really angry that this could still be happening. 

Jackie: Clayoquot Sound, what did it take for that movement to get as big as it did? When did you actually realize that it truly had legs? 

Tzeporah: I would say at the beginning of setting up the Peace Camp and the blockades, I remember sitting in a meeting saying, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get 100 people arrested? What if we had 500 people come to the blockades?" And that was a big deal. Because at the time, the year before, there had been blockades, and there were maybe 30 to 50 people on the road, one or two people getting arrested every day. Within four weeks of starting that blockade, we already saw hundreds of people every day. Cars pulled up hundreds and hundreds of people, and I think it was really about the middle of July when we realized that it had taken off. And in part, it was because of Midnight Oil, the Australian rock band. That happened because we're sitting around at my friend Val Langer's house, which was the headquarters of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound at the time in Tofino. And it was one of our favourite songs, "Beds Are Burning." Anyways, we're listening to this song, and Valerie goes, "I want Midnight Oil to come to Clayoquot Sound. Karen Mahana, who worked for Greenpeace at the time who was there, said Peter Garrett, who sings the Midnight Oil is on the Greenpeace International Board of Directors. And we're like, "Let's call him." He was like, "Yeah, well, we're touring in Canada. Where should we come?" And so we convinced them to add a couple of days on to their tour and to come to the blockades and to play in the middle of a clear cut and on the Kennedy Lake Bridge where we were blockading. And they were a very popular band at the time, and BC went crazy. BC Ferries had to add extra ferries on, and all of a sudden, thousands of people were coming. There was like a lineup of cars from basically Tofino all the way practically to Port Alberni coming to see this rock concert in the middle of a clear cut. And a lot of people stayed for the blockade. That was kind of the turning point moment that helped us get the dues in. 

Jackie: ​​When it comes to having bodies at the blockade, you say it is more accessible because we have clear communication and closer distance to the main city on the island. But, we are in a pandemic, and the provincial travel ban is to continue until, at the minimum, June 15. Do you think that that has hindered the protests?

Tzeporah: I've been watching the protests since August when the blockade camp started. And I didn't go until a couple of weeks ago after I'd had my first shot because I was nervous. I've got kids and elderly parents. And so I think a lot of people feel that way. Now that people have had a vaccine, most people, a lot of people have had a vaccine, and obviously, the travel restrictions opening up are going to help. Yeah, it's going to grow over the summer if the government doesn't solve it.

Jackie: One of the things that me and my producers are talking about is the idea that there's this like, 15 day period between, well, I guess, a two-week period between now and when the provincial travel restrictions could be lifted. And it feels like there's pressure on both sides as the RCMP who are trying to crush this before it gets to that and we have this influx, and also, then the people who are on the ground thinking we could hold on for another two weeks, we're going to start seeing people come in from the mainland. Do you think that's realistic, and will it be a major moment when that travel restriction is lifted? 

Tzeporah: I think it will increase the number of people coming, with school ending too. When school ended at the end of June, that's when we started seeing floods of people into the Clayoquot blockades. So I expect they do want to end it before July and August. But the more the RCMP cracks down, the more the images get out, the more people are coming. They're feeding the scandal and the controversy right now with their heavy-handed approach. I think they're not going to be able to end it that way. I mean, more and more people will just come, where it's one thing to have an issue that most people don't know about, and there's a mix, support or not support. This is an issue where over 90% of British Columbians believe that old-growth should be saved. Now that you have those viral photos going out where people know old-growth is still being logged. And you have people who have started getting arrested in Fairy Creek, and the news is everywhere. They cannot stop this, I don't think, without actually protecting the at-risk remaining old-growth in the province. And that's not just about Fairy Creek; that's all the pockets across the province, which is what their expert panel recommendation recommended. That's what they promised in the last election. So until they have the chutzpah to do what they promised and protect those 1.3 million hectares, or at least defer them, you know, while they're having. While they're putting the plans in place to shift forestry from a volume to value model, to do proper consultation and reconciliation to maintain options, they need to defer the remaining at-risk old-growth of 1.3 million hectares. And until they do that, the protests, I think they will continue. They'll continue in Fairy Creek. And they're going to start popping up across the province because we're hearing that the industry is moving in and trying to log more old-growth because they're worried that it will eventually get taken away from them. So this is a tinderbox. I think, and I think people keep saying, "Will this be the next war in the woods?" This already is the War in the Woods. 

Jackie: Would you say this one has the potential to be bigger? 

Tzeporah: A lot bigger because there's just so much more at stake. 

Jackie: Now, I want to talk about how international attention has impacted this. I know Clayoquot had international attention. But I mean, this one, like you said, because of the internet, the ease of access, it's huge. I was just on Reddit yesterday, it was on the front page, and it has over 100,000 upvotes a picture of a logged old-growth tree in British Columbia. And people are commenting like, "Oh my god, this is terrible. Why is this happening from all over the world?" How does that play into the pressure on our local governments, and how do you bottle that kind of energy and turn it into action?

Tzeporah: Well, part of it is not bottling it; good campaigning is about funnelling it. You want all this stuff to happen. You want it to be dominoes when you really want to create a campaign that puts pressure on a decision-maker. I can remember back in the Clayoquot campaign. I walked into a bar with some friends in Vancouver, and I saw there was a rainforest ale, and it was like 1993. We've just started to plan the blockade. No, it was the end of '93, just after the blockades before we started the markets and boycott campaign. I said I'll have one of those rainforest ales. And the guy put it in front of me. He goes, "Yeah, screw Mac Blo." And I was like, "Oh my god, Macmillan Bloedel. It was a logging company, and it was just this pop culture moment. And I was like, "Oh, it's not just us anymore talking about this. Everyone is talking about this." You want that to happen, and you want a thousand flowers to bloom, in my opinion. Since I got arrested in Fairy Creek, I've had messages from folks in New Zealand in the UK, the US all over the place, but you want to funnel it into what needs to happen. So I would encourage folks from around the world to protest at Canadian consulates in front of major lumber or pulp buyers. We're doing the research now to identify who is buying British Columbia's last remaining old-growth, and we'll be publishing those lists of customers. And you know what, those companies, they don't want people to know that they're using old-growth trees, 1000-year-old trees to make their products today, whether it's lumber or paper. And so, I think it's going to continue to grow because there's so little left on the planet.

Jackie: Yeah, you say the companies don't want to have the people knowing that kind of information was not a part of the past protest that the companies decided that they were going to boycott the old-growth product.

Tzeporah: I think the protests and the blockades in both Clayoquot and the Great Bear Rainforest kicked open the door to the issues. But I think the boycotts and the pressure from customers, and, you know, customers cancelling millions of dollars worth of contracts, is what actually pushed the government and industry to agree to some protection and to start seriously negotiating and consulting with indigenous nations in both cases. And so I hope that is not what we're going to have to do here, but we're getting ready in case the government refuses to act. 

Jackie: How do the relationships with the Indigenous communities in the area for the Fairy Creek blockades relate to the situation in the 90s? 

Tzeporah: I'd say very similar. The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and the five nations were under heavy pressure from the industry and from the government to oppose the logs and blockades and to sign non-disclosure agreements that would give them much-needed financial support for their communities and some say. Still, they certainly weren't presented with a package where they were given the option of protecting old-growth. So neither the Pacheedaht nor the Nuu-chah-nulth, during the climate protests, the government ever went to them and said, "Would you like to protect the old-growth rainforests in your traditional territories as well as have some logging? How can we support you in doing that? What is your vision for what you want to happen in your traditional territories?" Instead, they're being told, you can have a bit more say you're gonna have some money, you can be part of the process, but only if you oppose the blockades. And only if you sign off on this amount of logging in the old code. That's not reconciliation. That's not a dialogue. That's bribery. So I think it's very similar. In the case of Clayoquot Sound, though, the new journalists refused to condemn the blockades in '93. So they just stayed neutral. They stayed out of it. Eventually, they were the people who brokered the longer-term solutions in climate sound. They brought the industry and environmental voices and scientists and government together and negotiated the solutions.

Jackie: So could that be a sticking point in this one, given that the Paachedaht have actually released a statement saying that protesters aren't welcome on their land? And as far as we see right now, it seems like they support the loggers. 

Tzeporah: There is a huge divide within the community; that much is clear. And there are a number of Indigenous youth and Indigenous elders from the Pacheedaht Nation who are blockading right now who are on the blockades. And so, I think that the Paachedaht didn't realize what a powerful position they found themselves in. And I would urge the government to actually ask them if they could be supported to protect the old-growth if they want it protected. 

Jackie: Lastly, where do you see this movement going over the short term and long term? 

Tzeporah: What's interesting to me sitting around the fire at Fairy Creek was that this is not a movement, just about big trees. It's not a movement about old-growth. Folks younger than me, I think many of the people I met in the camp see all these issues that are intertwined. Whether it's social justice issues or climate issues, or the last of last old-growth, this is about power and values. And I think that, in many ways, what's happening in Fairy Creek, they're really grassroots and organic, and people showing up and digging in and starting to be a part of it. The movement is really good for us in British Columbia to remember that we're not just consumers. We're not just voters once every four years; we're citizens. And at this moment in history, we're called to stand up. I think even if the government manages to do the right thing and defer that risk, old-growth and take the heat out of some of what's happening in Fairy Creek, we're going to consider continuing to see more protest movements across this province. Right now, we're not seeing the action on the ecological collapse and the climate emergency that we need. And increasingly, we're running out of time, and people are running out of patience. So whether it's fracking in northern BC or the trans mountain pipeline, they're about to start drilling under Burnaby Mountain. I think we're going to see growing protest movements in British Columbia until we start to see governments have the courage to address the problems of the scale of the problems we see today.

Jackie: Thank you so much for your time. This has been really informative.

Tzeporah: Thank you. 

Jackie: And now, co-producer Emily Vance. Emily, good morning.

Emily: Good morning, Jackie. 

Jackie: This past weekend, you went up to the Fairy Creek blockades in a convoy. What happened there? 

Emily: Some friends invited me to a private Facebook event a couple of days before. That's how I found out about it. When they invited me a couple of days before Saturday, there were about 1000 people in the group. And I weighed whether or not I should go up. And then when I checked again on Friday, there were over 2000 people in the group. So I thought, "Okay, this is gonna be a really big thing." It was billed as one day to protect old growth. And yeah, you mentioned the convoy. So this seems like a grassroots movement. Originally, there were scheduled to be two convoys of people, one heading from Victoria and one heading from the Duncan area. It's always difficult to tell exactly how many people will head up there. But in the end, the Fairy Creek headquarters reported that over 2000 people checked in at headquarters on Saturday. They have that number because they were doing COVID contact tracing. I tried to estimate when I was up there as well. And it did seem like there were well over 1000 people. 

Jackie: Wow, what happened when you got there?

Emily: Yeah, there was a massive presence of people. We got there a bit early, and I knew that there was a potential for a blockade and that loggers would try and stop people from getting up there. So I wanted to hit up ahead of the convoy. And there was still a massive presence of people. When I got there, cars were continuously pulling into the Fairy Creek headquarters. They had volunteers helping people park, and I was trying to figure out exactly what the plan was for today, but it didn't seem like there was a plan. There was confusion among the volunteers as to what was going to be happening. And I think this just speaks to the fact that the Facebook event picked up steam, more than a lot of people really knew that it would. Logistically, I think that it was a challenge. But anyway, once I got up there, there were people from all different parts of society, it was impressive. There were families. There were lots of children, and there were people pushing strollers; there were seniors and elders, people from all over. So I spoke with people from all over Vancouver Island. Greater Victoria, of course, Duncan, Cowichan, Saltspring Island as far away as Cortez. I also spoke with a number of people from Vancouver. And interestingly enough, a reporter was covering the blockades for Vogue magazine. There were also representatives from the Tsleil Waututh Nation that were speaking there; Ruben George was one of those people. 

Ruben George (audio clip): What would help us when we were hurting? From that residential school experience, what helped us was the forest. It helped us. So we have an obligation, and so do you, to turn around and help what helped us. And these trees did. In our culture, we understand our laws as truth, family, health and culture. That's our law. That's our law, and it supersedes Canada's law. But that's our law. And what comes about is the fundamentals of humanity. And that's love and honour and respect and dignity and pride, compassion, all those good things that greet a good human being. That's our law. 

Jackie: You say that it was kind of all over the place a little bit. What was the organization like? 

Emily: It was tough to know what was going on and when the call was for people to arrive at noon, we got there around 10:30. And around that time, volunteers were sending people to waterfall camp. So this is one of the camps that the RCMP has been targeting. I think they had almost cleared out all of the blockaders on Friday. And so the push for that day was going to be to get people up to waterfall camp to retake it. So we hopped in my car, and we drove there to Riyadh as close as we could get, which was still about ten kilometres from the Waterfall Camp. That's where the RCMP exclusion zone was. A group of protesters led by Bill Jones broke through the exclusion zone when we could hear them cheering as we headed up. And when we got there, there was just a broken line of police tape, a number of RCMP, and then people gathered outside of the RCMP were saying like, "You can go up here if you want you we can't guarantee what's gonna happen to you if you do." So we eventually caught up to this group headquarters and said that there were eventually 200 people that made it up to a Waterfall Camp. We were walking with a group of, I would say, about 80 people. And so we walked part of the way up to Waterfall Camp with the protesters. We didn't make it to the full 10 kilometres. We didn't know what we were in for, and we were not prepared for a 20 k return hike that day. However, we did stay long enough to hear some of the strategies that the press protesters were using. It was very grassroots. I'd say that a lot of people in that group had never even been to the Fairy Creek blockades before. And all of a sudden, they're part of a charge to take back a protest camp in the middle of an exclusion zone. Yeah, so it was really interesting to watch. One person spoke up and started to lead the charge, and here's a little clip of what that sounded like. 

Fairy Creek Protestor (audio clip): We're a little over halfway. Now, I would say I'm not an expert at gauging distances or times or anything. But that would be my best approximation. When we get up to Waterfall, it may be that there's another police line there, it may be that there isn't, I don't know. It would be great to walk up to Waterfall, which was cleared out yesterday by the police and retake it. In the event that there is a policeman there, it would be good as we get close to get to people who are most arrestable at the front. I know we're all in the exclusion zone now. So we're all at some risk of arrest. But those who feel more comfortable with that can maybe be at the front and let the folks who are becoming less comfortable with that have at least a higher chance of getting out of here without being arrested. If you are arrested, odds are you will be charged with obstruction. Often those charges have been dropped. Sometimes they haven't been hard to predict. If you encounter police, you don't have to tell them anything that includes your name unless you were under arrest. If you are placed under arrest, your name, date of birth, and address are the only things you're obligated to tell them. It's safer for everyone if you don't say more. From personal experience, at least I have looked back in hindsight on many interactions with cops, but I thought I knew what I was doing and what I was saying and realized that I should have shut my mouth. And that's a shitty feeling; later on, you understand you might have put a friend at risk.

Jackie: What's your take on the significance of Saturday?

Emily: Yeah, that's a good question. For me, we've been following this for a couple of months now. And it seems like this movement is just getting bigger. It seems like it was the largest presence of people at Fairy Creek headquarters ever this past Saturday. And then movement is just swelling in numbers. I mean, at this point, I think we have over 140 people arrested. And obviously, that's a big number in and of itself. But the scope of this protest itself is also growing. As I said, some people travelled from Vancouver and outside of Island Health. But there were also solidarity protests organized at least in Vancouver and Castlegar outside of forest minister Katrine Conroy's office. 

Jackie: Wow, okay. Yeah, I went to a protest in Langford on the weekend as well. It was on Friday. So it was the day before, and it was organized by youth, and they had Indigenous youth speakers. And they had actually marched from John Horgan's office all the way to the RCMP. They just kind of walked onto the street, and there were hundreds of people. It was incredible in terms of the number of people that were there, and it was Langford. So people are coming out from Victoria to attend this. And then also, I mean, the cars stopping along the way and honking along, it didn't seem like anybody was upset about it. It was interesting to see what usually happens when a group of protesters take to the streets. Cars can get a little bit annoyed, but it didn't seem to be the case. I think that you're right in saying that. You and I have been covering this for a while. And while this thing is only getting bigger, and the support is only growing. I think of the fact that Vogue magazine is covering this now. 

Emily: Absolutely. I spoke to their reporter working on this file, and she said she had noticed that her editor in New York had started following the Fairy Creek blockade. And so that's how she came to pitch the story to her that this reporter lives in Vancouver. And then you start to see bigger and bigger names share this protest online. One I can think of is Paul Stamets. He is a renowned mycologist who studies the relationship between mycelium and aka mushrooms underground and the way that the trees communicate. He's got a huge following on Instagram, and you just are starting to see bigger and bigger names being drawn to talk about this. 

Jackie: And for the kids, you can't forget Cole Sprouse. 

Emily: Yeah, exactly.  

Jackie: Okay. Emily, thank you so much. 

Emily: Yeah, always a pleasure. I mean, it's a complex issue, but we're here, we're breaking it down.

Jackie: As always on this topic, you can look back on our episode yesterday and all of our previous episodes. We've been covering this very extensively, and we also have lots of written copy online at We also did an AMA yesterday on the British Columbia subreddit. So if you're interested in any of our responses to common questions, feel free to check that out as well.