A group of British Columbians fed-up with regular highway blockades by people protesting the logging of old-growth forests says they are now pursuing a class-action lawsuit.
Save Old Growth has been occupying highways in various parts of the province intermittently since January, in an effort to cause enough disruptive action that B.C. is pushed to end all old-growth logging. Since June 13, it has committed to blocking highways in Victoria and Vancouver daily.
This was the final straw for newly formed group Clear The Road, which says the blockades are stopping British Columbians from reaching medical appointments, getting to work on time and reaching customers for deliveries or contract services.
“The main frustration is that they’re holding everyday people hostage from going about their day,” said organizer and forestry-supporter Tamara Meggitt.
According to her, more than 1,000 people have signed Clear The Road’s petition and dozens have expressed interest in joining a possible class-action lawsuit, including a few who claim they have lost thousands in income from the blockades. Meggitt says the group is in discussions with lawyers and that there is a “high, high likelihood” that efforts to sue will proceed.
It’s of little concern to the protesters themselves, though.
Save Old Growth co-founder Zain Haq says it’s just one of numerous risks he and other protesters are willing to face for what they view as a life-or-death cause. The survival of old-growth forests is directly linked to the impacts of climate change and, thus, the survival of people, Haq says.
He says their methods are intentionally disruptive and that the history of protests show governments only enact change when tough conversations are forced upon them.
Haq likens what they’re doing to the Freedom Riders of the 1960s, a group of Black and white civil rights activists who challenged segregation laws by riding buses while seated next to each other. Haq says they created change not by becoming popular, but by causing disruptions for a long enough period of time.
“I don’t like at all being on the highway. No one likes upsetting people on purpose. We feel like this is the only option we have left at this point,” he said
Tensions have been growing between the protesters and commuters for months, with several videos taken at the blockades showing drivers trying to drag protesters out of the way.
On Monday (June 13) one protester who was perched on top of a ladder in North Saanich fell to the pavement when a commuter broke a wooden support structure below, according to Save Old Growth. Haq says the person was set to undergo surgery Tuesday for a broken pelvis.
The group will continue their blockades and other disruptive techniques – one member dumped manure outside Premier John Horgan’s office and another glued their hand to a goal post at a soccer game – until old-growth logging is banned.
A number of protesters are facing criminal charges in connection to the blockades, which could carry jail time.
Class action lawsuits must be authorized or certified by a judge in order to go ahead.