Protests outside of Kootenay West MLA and B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Katrine Conroy’s Castlegar office have become a regular event in recent weeks.
Crowds ranging from dozens to 150 have gathered to call for an end to old growth logging, show solidarity with Fairy Creek protesters and gain attention for their cause. A protest on May 31 saw four people arrested after protesters blocked Castlegar’s main thoroughfare for four hours.
Conroy has not appeared at any of the protests to talk to the gathered crowds, much to the disappointment of organizers.
But Conroy says the reason why is pretty straightforward — she is not working at her office. She is either working from home or working in Victoria, and she is carefully following provincial guidelines related to COVID-19.
Conroy says she has not been meeting with any large groups of people during the pandemic.
“I am very respectful of the COVID protocols, and I take to heart what [provincial health officer] Bonnie Henry says,” said Conroy.
Conroy also says she was never asked to make an appearance by any of the organizers of the Castlegar protests.
“I am not avoiding people, I have had discussions with people about old growth and about what is happening in the forest industry and the environment, but those appointments are booked through my office.”
Because of COVID and the discomfort of having to navigate through a crowd to enter or leave the office, Conroy’s staff work from home if they get wind of a protest.
“They have expressed concerns,” Conroy said of her staff. “We are very cautious about what is happening because of COVID.
“It is hard for staff, they are not the politicians. So I want to make sure I respect their needs.”
The travel from regions outside of the Kootenays associated with the protests also concerns Conroy, once again because of the pandemic.
At the most recent protest, RCMP gave notice to the protesters, asking them clear off of Columbia Avenue.
Cameron Topp, a spokesperson at the event, stated, “We will sit down on the road until Minister Conroy declares an end to old growth logging or we are removed by force by the police.”
After spending four hours blocking the road, the remaining protesters, including a high school student, were arrested.
Conroy says it was unfortunate the situation had to come down to arrests.
“I respect the right to protest. I know how passionate people are,” said Conroy.
But she also says people can protest and get their message heard without having to get to the point where they break the law.
On June 1, the B.C. government released an intentions paper outlining its plans for managing the province’s forests. The plan includes a commitment to further reduce logging in old growth forests, but over a several year timeline.
Conroy says she and the B.C. government remain committed to implementing all of the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review.