A group of people protesting logging plans in an area north of Nelson were arrested by RCMP on Tuesday (May 17) morning for violating a court-ordered injunction by a West Kootenay timber company.
The group Last Stand West Kootenay set up camp in April on a logging road in the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, a stretch of forested mountainside between the east shore of Kootenay Lake and the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy near the small community of Argenta.
RCMP said in a statement that the 17 people were arrested for civil contempt of court. Of those, nine were taken into custody while eight people were released on the condition of attending a July 19 court date in Nelson.
Vancouver Island-based lawyer Noah Ross, whose firm is providing legal advice to the people detained, said he believed approximately 20-30 people had been arrested.
Of those, he said nine people had been taken into custody for refusing to sign release conditions. Ross said those people were released later in the afternoon.
RCMP said the injunction granted to Cooper Creek Cedar in 2019, which holds a license for the area, prevented anyone from “interfering with or counselling other persons to physically prevent, impede, restrict, or in any way physically interfere with, the logging and related operations and activities of CCC, their employees, contractors or agents.”
Logging of 1.4 hectares of old-growth identified by the province has been deferred. But the company has said it intends to begin harvesting the rest of the cut block as soon as the blockade was removed.
Several people who were present when arrests began Tuesday told the Nelson Star that RCMP officers did not respond to requests for negotiation.
Matt Perry was among the people arrested. He said only one person was blocking the road at the time of the arrests, and that protesters had previously been led to believe by RCMP they could legally protest from the sides of the road.
Perry said RCMP also did not give those present the option to leave the site prior to being arrested.
“They came in and did not care to abide by law and did not care that these charges would stick or not,” said Perry. “Their intention was to push everybody out of that area as quickly as possible.”
RCMP said in a statement they had previously advised the group they would be arrested if they continued to stay in the area known as Salisbury Creek.
Argenta resident Zan Mautner said he was visiting the camp to show his support when the RCMP arrived. Mautner added he was never told why he was being arrested.
“This mountainside is really important to the local community … Not enough is being done to protect it.”
Miguel Pastor, 17, was also arrested. He said RCMP destroyed or confiscated the personal belongings of the people present. “I am traumatized and deeply upset that people can be treated this way.”
Another man arrested who would only identify himself as Jaguar told the Nelson Star that RCMP detailed the group’s legal observers and their police liaisons.
He said the group had reason to believe it would reach a solution to the standoff with Cooper Creek Cedar prior to the arrests.
“It was really disappointing that they decided to go down this route,” he said.