I’ve stayed home for all of April, and therefore haven’t had access to the IWA archive. This blog post is created out of media accounts of events, which I can access online. Since the IWA was directly involved in the planning and execution of two of the three blockades narrated here, it’s possible that the archive contains some records relating to these events. If we find anything as we move onward, I’ll be sure to write an updated post.
Ask most citizens of British Columbia or Canada what springs to mind when they think of “forestry” and “civil disobedience” they will likely point toward anti-logging protests. They might, perhaps, think of the famous blockades of the Kennedy River Bridge in Clayoquot Sound in 1993, or the tree-spikes found in the Walbran Valley in 1992, or the inventive and death-defying palisade constructed over Lava Creek in the Elaho Valley in 2000. However, forestry workers also took the law into their own hands during British Columbia’s “War in the Woods”, blockading environmentalists to give them a taste of their own medicine. This blog post explores three times in the 1990s when the loggers struck back!
Fall 1990: Concerned MacMillan Bloedel employees blockade the Carmanah Valley
The battle to preserve the Carmanah Valley, on unceded Qwa-ba-diwa and Ditidaht territory, began to get ugly in 1990. In April of that year, British Columbia Forest Minister Claude Richmond announced that the lower half of the valley would be preserved, allowing the Upper Carmanah to be logged by MacMillan Bloedel. Preservationists vowed to continue campaigning to have the Upper Valley protected too, memorably with Western Canada Wilderness Committee director Adriene Carr likening Richmond’s decision with Solomon’s biblical compromise of cutting a disputed child in half.
In response to trailbuilding and E.N.G.O. media campaigning in the Upper Carmanah Valley, a group of forestry workers decided to blockade access to the valley in September 1990. Operating as an independent group named Concerned Forestry Workers, the roughly 50 blockaders were predominately residents of Port Alberni and employees of MacMillan Bloedel. Holding an info session on the back of a pickup truck and blocking the road near the Caycuse Bridge over a late September weekend, the group turned back tourists and trailbuilding crews as they attempted to access the valley. A follow-up blockade happened in the same place two weeks later during the first weekend of October.
The organizers of the blockade argued their purpose was to draw media attention to the job losses caused by even the partial preservation of the Carmanah Valley. Group spokesman Bruce Stelmacker stated, “we’re workers that work in the forest industry and we’re concerned about where our jobs are going” (Alberni Valley Times, 24 Sep. 1990, 1). Meanwhile, organizer Simon DeWaal told the Vancouver Sun: “those of us who are dependent on the forest industry can’t sit idly by and let this happen because we are going to lose our jobs” (Vancouver Sun, 6 Oct. 1990, C15).
Letters to the Alberni Valley Times show that there was support for the logger blockaders, at least within the resource-industry dependent town of Port Alberni.
Blockade organizers insisted there would be no trouble or violence during the blockades. A logger of 15 years and a participant in the blockade, Mike Parcher asserted “when they see the guys I’ve got backing me up- I don’t think they are going to get very far” (Times Colonist, 22 Sep 1990). However, trouble did indeed rear its head- just not at the blockade. During the second blockade over an early October weekend, unknown chainsaw wielding perpetrators demolished a Western Canada Wilderness Committee research station in the Upper Carmanah, tearing up bridges, boardwalks, and outhouses and causing a reported $30,000 worth of damage.
As Richard Watts of the Times Colonist noted, 1990 was the year that “saw guerilla-style vandalism and intimidation creep into public standoffs between environmentalists and forest companies” (Times Colonist, 27 Dec 1990, C11). This was, as these examples show, never a one-way process, with groups on both sides of the conflict turning towards ever more radical measures to stake their claim to the forest.
Summer 1997: The IWA blockades Greenpeace ships in Vancouver
By 1997, IWA Canada (now renamed the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada following their split from the International union) had adopted a more aggressive approach to countering forest preservationist campaigning. Led by hereditary chiefs of the Nuxalk Nation, Greenpeace had recently organized a 19-day anti-logging blockade in Bella Coola, and were continuing their ongoing international campaign to encourage businesses such as Ikea to boycott B.C. wood suppliers. In response, taking the offensive in June and July of 1997, IWA Canada organized a blockade of the Greenpeace vessels at dock in Vancouver.
Greenpeace icebreaker the Arctic Sunrise, and smaller craft the Moby Dick, were docked in the Burrard Inlet when forestry trade unionists set up an information picket line and surrounded the ships with a log boom. They demanded $250,000 in lost wages to release the ships. According to the Vancouver Sun, members of the B.C. Coast Pilots Association also refused to cross the picket line to pilot the vessel out of harbor (Vancouver Sun, 10 Jul 1997, B1).
An IWA press release issued on June 28 announced the blockaders were “taking action to indicate to Greenpeace that it’s campaign calling for an international boycott of our province’s main industry is unacceptable”. A press release following on June 29 quoted IWA National President Dave Haggard, responding to Greenpeace’s call for negotiation, stating “they are a bunch of hypocrites who set up illegal blockades preventing our members from going to work and, now they are getting a taste of their own medicine, they have the nerve to ask for dialogue”. (press releases reprinted in Prince George Free Press, 27 Jul 1997, 6).
IWA blockaders came from around the province, with attendees from Courtenay and the Cariboo supporting Vancouver-based trade unionists. The Cariboo Communities Coalition also supported the blockaders, with Coalition chair Brian Goodrich stating “it’s not a bad idea to show Greenpeace there is an affect to their actions… This affects our lives” (Williams Lake Tribune, 8 July 1997, A3).
The blockade ended after a week, when Greenpeace activists successfully piloted the Arctic Sunrise around the IWA’s log boom. Following the blockade, Greenpeace spokesperson Tamara Stark claimed the blockade was a distraction from the real culprits of forestry malpractice, the companies and politicians: “If I were Premier Glen Clark or the CEO of a logging company right now, I would be popping champagne corks” (Times Colonist, 7 Jul 1997, A2).
Summer 1997: IWA Local Union 1-71 Blockades the Elaho
The Elaho Valley, on unceded Squamish and Lil’wat territory, had been the target of a preservationist campaign led by Western Canada Wilderness Committee and People’s Action for Threatened Habitat since 1995. During the same week as IWA Canada’s blockade of Greenpeace vessels in Vancouver, IWA Local Union 1-71 established a blockade at Mile 21 on the main Squamish River logging road leading to the Elaho. Anyone looking to pass the blockade had to sign a petition stating, “environmentalists should be made to pay for loggers’ lost salaries when they’re put out of work” (Vancouver Sun, 9 Jul 1997, A4).
Supported by the Squamish Chamber of Commerce and the Soo Coalition for Sustainable Forests (SCSF), the forest workers’ blockade had two goals. First, executive director of SCSF Cheryl Bass claimed, “radicals have twice disrupted logging in the upper Squamish this year and only the blockade has enabled loggers to keep working the past three weeks” (Vancouver Sun, 16 Jul 1997, A6). According to organizers, the blockade was in place to prevent civil disobedience. As IWA rep Ken Bayers asserted, “our members demand that they be allowed to go to work each day unhindered by radical environmentalists intent on blocking logging roads and chaining themselves to logging equipment” (The Province, 17 Jul 1997, A13).
However, the blockade was also intended to prevent Western Canada Wilderness Committee volunteers and staff from reaching a research station in the valley. WCWC, a group that regularly touted its non-involvement in civil disobedience, instead was using the station as a base to conduct studies on migratory bird habits.
In response to the pro-logging blockade, WCWC went to the Supreme Court asking for an injunction against the pro-logging blockade. Before the injunction was granted, the IWA and their allies lifted their blockade. In the aftermath, Darrel Wong, president of IWA Local 1-71, noted the irony of environmentalists turning to the courts. “I think it’s quite hilarious that they’re trying to seek an injunction against us” (The Province, 4 Jul 1997, A17).
Following the blockade, in scenes reminiscent of the destruction of the Carmanah research station in 1990, WCWC discovered their Elaho research station had been dismantled. Worse violence would follow two years later in 1999, when a gang of Interfor forestry workers, reported to be 100-strong, led an assault on environmentalists camped in the Elaho that resulted in three eco-activists being injured and seeking Court charges.
Were you affected by any of these actions? Or did you take part in them? I’m looking for research participants willing to be interviewed regarding these events. Confidentiality and anonymity can be assured in cases of unresolved legal repercussions. Please email email@example.com