Safety concerns halt meeting of forestry workers, environmentalists in Campbell River

Tuesday, November 26, 2019
CTV News

VICTORIA – Some environmental activists are voicing their frustration at the City of Campbell River after a scheduled community meeting was cancelled due to safety concerns Monday.

The conference was originally planned to focus on the island's forests and climate change hosted by two environmentalist groups, the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC. 

However, after lumber company Mosaic announced it was curtailing operations and news of the ongoing North Island union strike against forestry organization WildernessProducts spread, the event organizers decided to shift the focus of the meeting to a community discussion.

"We, over the weekend, thought about our original plan which was to come to Campbell River and do a presentation on forest and climate change, and then have a little discussion about climate change," says Wilderness Committee spokesperson Torrance Coste.

"Then we thought, given the state of where the forestry industry is at, with the WFP strike entering its fifth month and Mosaic closing its operations, we thought, 'You know what, let's switch up our plans and leave our slideshow at home," says Coste. 

With the event scheduled for Monday evening, Coste says that on Monday morning city officials and Campbell River RCMP told Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee that the event was set to move forward. Coste says that the city advised the environmental organizations that there had been some opposition to the event online, but that security and RCMP officers would be on site during the meeting.

"We said, 'Yeah that always happens'," says Coste. "This would be our 14th meeting on Vancouver Island and third in Campbell River in two years. It will be tense and heated but that's all it's going to be." 

By Monday evening, just hours before the event was supposed to begin, Coste says the city contacted the two groups advising them that the meeting would be cancelled due to safety concerns. According to Coste, the city cited concerns of "emotionally charged behaviours," security and public safety.

Coste says that the last-minute cancellation was frustrating as the city had placed signs on the doors of the venue, but did not say who was cancelling the event and for what reasons. Once the meeting was scheduled to begin, Coste says that roughly 200 people had gathered outside of the locked doors of the building.

"We, not knowing the nature of the risks that the RCMP had deemed worthy enough to shut down the event, didn't go and engage with the crowd," says Coste. "So the exchange that we wanted to have and the search for common ground and common values didn't get to happen."

On Tuesday, the City of Campbell River told CTV News that the municipality felt that its security measures were not adequate for the number of people that were expected to attend the event.

“First of all, the city cancelled the event and we acknowledge that there were good intentions from Sierra Club,” said Ron Bowles, communications manager for Campbell River.

“Given the number of people that were planning to attend and rally, we just didn’t feel that we had adequate security in such short notice, and we did that in consultation with RCMP as to what would be appropriate,” said Bowles.

Bowles added that while the city is supportive of community dialogues, this specific meeting could illicit strong emotional behavior that staff felt unprepared for.

“The city feels it’s important for community dialogue and engagement to happen and often our community centres are where that dialogue can happen,” said Bowles. 

“In this case, given the strong potential for highly charged emotions, we just felt we had to cancel,” said Bowles. 

The city says that Sierra Club BC and Wilderness Committee are welcome to host another meeting, so long as they receive an RCMP-approved security plan before the event takes place.

Coste says that the two environmental organizations are already looking to reschedule their public meeting in Campbell River.

"We want to extend our sympathies to the workers and families that are impacted by the ongoing forestry issue," says Coste. 

"We were looking forward to speaking with them and hearing their concerns," Coste adds. "We look forward to hearing from them and we hope they get through this." 

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