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Fairy Creek old-growth protesters celebrate as contempt prosecution has ‘collapsed’

Acquittal of protester earlier this year leads to 11 cases being withdrawn, others could follow
People take part in a peace circle along a logging road in the Fairy Creek logging area near Port Renfrew, B.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. The B.C. Prosecution Service says it has withdrawn contempt charges against 11 old-growth logging protesters accused of breaching a court injunction during blockades at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The B.C. Prosecution Service has withdrawn contempt charges against 11 old-growth logging protesters accused of breaching a court injunction during blockades at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.

Spokesman Gordon Comer said prosecutors were in court Tuesday to enter the withdrawals, and the service is reviewing other cases after a ruling that acquitted protester Ryan Henderson earlier this year.

Comer said the Crown is reviewing remaining cases that were affected by the Henderson decision, which tossed out the charge because of the RCMP’s failure to properly read the injunction to people arrested during the protest.

“We cannot provide any numbers for how many files may be withdrawn, as that will be determined on a case-by-case basis, based on the available evidence. The Crown has filed an appeal of the Henderson decision with the Supreme Court of Canada,” Comer said in an emailed statement.

In February, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson acquitted Henderson on criminal contempt charges, finding the RCMP opted to use a “short-form script” instead of reading the full text of the court injunction prohibiting interference with Teal Cedar’s logging activities.

“The RCMP script did not transmit sufficient information about the terms of the injunction order, and the information that was delivered via this script was not accurate and clear,” Thompson’s ruling said.

A lawyer defending protesters said the Crown is expected to withdraw charges against as many as 150 people in the coming weeks because of Thompson’s decision.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association President Karen Mirsky, who has defended several clients facing contempt charges for protests at Fairy Creek, said police didn’t follow long-standing legal principles when they failed to read the full injunction.

Mirsky said the RCMP spent millions of dollars during the protests and the force’s failure to properly enforce the injunction highlights how provinces should rethink the kinds of policing they’re getting.

She said the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group was responsible for enforcement actions at Fairy Creek, and the charge withdrawals resulted from police not “having the wherewithal to stand in one place and read an injunction fully and hand a copy of an injunction to an individual who is protesting.”

“It shouldn’t come to us as a shock to them that they needed to do this and certainly they have the benefit of their own legal team,” she said.

Mirsky said the police unit’s actions during the protests and other events have spurred formal complaints, leading to a review by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

On Tuesday, a coalition of Indigenous groups, environmentalists, human rights advocates, and others announced they will deliver an open letter to the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa calling for the police response group to be disbanded.

READ MORE: RCMP’s shorter version of injunction prompts court’s acquittal of B.C. protester

READ MORE: Fairy Creek arrests surpass 1,000 in Canada’s largest act of civil disobedience