In the middle of the election campaign, I strayed from the beaten and trodden paths of federal party leaders to enter a forest of ancient trees in British Columbia. I discovered Canadians there for whom ballot democracy is not enough.
Dozens of people take turns at Fairy Creek and try to force logging company Teal-Jones to beat retired after having obtained rights to cut trees several hundred years old, sometimes millennia. Since August 2020, they have been covering the forest path with stones, digging trenches, erecting barricades before attaching the forearm to them, temporarily preventing the forestry machinery from moving forward. They are part of the largest civil disobedience movement in Canadian history.
To get there, I walk along the coast of Vancouver Island for a hundred kilometers, from Victoria to Port Renfrew, where I fork east. For a moment, the waves of cell towers in British Columbia and Washington state intermingle, making my cell phone dizzy, then fade away. After having bypassed Fairy Lake, I saw about twenty vehicles piled up on the side of the road, then a camp of trailers, tents and folding chairs.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers monitor the comings and goings of motorists. “You parked your car on the track,” one of them tells me after coming to a halt in his SUV. ” And now ? I ask after digging new furrows in the strip of earth mixed with gravel. “You’re still on the road,” the agent replies with a pout of disapproval. “No tire on your car should be in contact with the asphalt on the road, otherwise they will give you a ticket,” launches a regular while walking towards his car. Including.
I quickly mention to the agents that I am a journalist. In response, they tell me that their colleague responsible for media relations has taken leave and politely invite me to do the same and come back another day. Instead, I enter the Rainforest Flying Squad base camp, where people of all ages engage – for a few hours, days or weeks – in the resistance against the cutting of cypress, cedar and other trees. giants at Fairy Creek. Five activists suggest that I climb the mountain with them in order to join the front line separating the protesters on the one hand and the employees of the forest manager and the police officers whom they have called in as reinforcements on the other. I accept.
We move towards the entrance to the forest path, where half a dozen police officers stand guard. They demand to see my ID card, otherwise they wouldn’t let me through. I pull my press card out of my coat pocket. They roll their eyes. They want to take a look at my driver’s license for information, like my home address and date of birth. I am confused. The five activists in line behind me turn on their heels. They refuse to identify themselves. Some are “on file” for obstructing the legal activities of Teal-Jones and its contractors, they tell me. They decide to bypass the police barrier through the woods. I follow them. What was the point of climbing the mountain alone. I don’t want to compose a herbarium; I’m looking to learn more about these nonviolent direct action enthusiasts.
I quickly see that they come from all over Canada; students, workers, the unemployed, retirees, many of whom have been affected by “climate anxiety”. Faced with the inaction of political decision-makers, they took matters into their own hands, they explained, in order to preserve as many old trees as possible from felling.
The four men – Void, Prince, Chicoutimi and Atlantique – and the only woman – Squirrel – rail against the NDP government of British Columbia, which has granted stumpage rights to the forest. They don’t trust him – neither Jagmeet Singh’s NDP nor Justin Trudeau’s PLC for that matter – to resolve the situation. As the poll approaches, they hesitate between a strategic vote aimed at blocking the election of the Conservative Party and a blank vote or abstention, which would prevent them from endorsing a “rotten system”, explains to me Squirrel, which carries a backpack weighing two tons and to which a pair of sneakers and a woolen blanket are attached.
After more than an hour of walking, the “environmentalists” join other occasional or permanent members of the Rainforest Flying Squad, who are gathered in front of a camp. Raven gives his instructions to thwart or at least slow down the logging planned for the next day. Between two sentences, I introduce myself. Conscious of her imprudence, she asks to see my press card… then moves away in order to present to the others, out of sight, the offensive she has prepared.