The RCMP use an excavator to extract an old-growth logging protester from a tripod in the Fairy Creek area on Vancouver Island. (Submitted)

The RCMP use an excavator to extract an old-growth logging protester from a tripod in the Fairy Creek area on Vancouver Island. (Submitted)

Protester removal by excavator at Vancouver Island logging blockades raising concerns

‘The RCMP has taken significant efforts to address the risks with our specially trained experts’

Observers, protesters and even the police are growing increasingly concerned that actions on the front lines of an ongoing old growth logging dispute on southern Vancouver Island are putting people at risk.

People ignoring a court injunction have been using a variety of techniques to secure themselves in place at blockades in and around the Fairy Creek watershed. Videos and photos from extraction scenes appear to show excavators being used mere feet from protesters who have locked themselves into “sleeping dragon” devices buried in logging roads

A protester named Joshua, who asked that his last name not be used, said he has years of experience using excavators. The buckets, he explained, are operated using two joysticks, and moving one controller a few centimetres causes the bucket to move in a much larger magnitude.

“It’s just insanely dangerous. It’s so not worth the risk. Because if he slips on the joystick in the wrong direction — just slightly — that bucket’s over their head. You know what I mean? It’s insane that they would allow that.”

“They’re not designed to extract people, they’re designed to move rocks. The precision isn’t there.

Felix Amuir of Gabriola Island’s Amuir Excavating said the machines are being used too close to people, adding that if a similar thing happened on a job site, WorkSafeBC would shut the site down

“It’s just a complete lack of regard for human life,” Amuir said. “They’re clearly not seeing them as people.”

According to WorkSafeBC’s website, “If a hazard is created by the swinging movement of the load, cab, counterweight or any other part of the mobile equipment a worker must not be within range of the swinging load or equipment, and the operator must not move the equipment when any worker is so exposed.”

A spokesperson for WorkSafeBC said that its role is to ensure employee safety, and does not extend to wider public safety, but confirmed the agency is aware of the situation, has reviewed all worker safety requirements, and is maintaining contact with the employer. The heavy machinery is being operated by trained operators contracted by Teal-Cedar Products.

Police, meanwhile reiterated their concerns about the protesters’ techniques in a statement released on Tuesday evening.

“We are extremely concerned with the type of tactics being shown by the contemnors, putting themselves in increasing and serious risk of injury or worse,” says Supt. John Brewer, Gold Commander of the RCMP Community-Industry Response Group.

“The RCMP has taken significant efforts to address the risks with our specially trained experts, and by conducting medical assessments before, during and after extraction based on the tactics we are seeing. There is no need to attach chains or locks around their necks, or literally stitch or glue themselves together as a form of protest. Lawful and peaceful protest can take place without these dangerous practices.”

Media relations officer Sgt. Chris Manseau said that all protesters are being removed as safely as possible by specially trained officers.

“We have been providing safety equipment like hard hats, face shields and ear protection on individuals while they are being removed from their devices,” Manseau said. “We have also been providing medical assessments at several points during the removal and arrest processes, and to date we have not received any complaints or reports of injuries since enforcement began on May 17, 2021.”

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