The Sierra Club of BC and the Wilderness Committee were scheduled to host a presentation entitled “Forests: A Climate for Change” at the Campbell River Community Centre on Monday night, but the event was cancelled at the last minute based on recommendations from the RCMP and the City of Campbell River over concerns including “a high risk of emotionally charged behaviours and security and public safety reasons,” the organization announced on its Facebook event page.
“We’re really sorry to folks who had planned to attend and especially to anyone already on their way to the event,” the post reads. “We are in communication with the city about rescheduling a public meeting in the future.”
The event was initially planned to be “an evening of presentations on the climate crisis, the state of old-growth and second-growth forests on Vancouver Island and how these two relate to each other, followed by a discussion about how we can build a just and sustainable future together,” according to the group, but when word got out about the presentation, it became a rallying point for those in the forestry industry, many of whom are currently out on strike or dealing with other downturns in the industry, such as recent curtailment announcements.
In response to the clear opposition being voiced by many in the community, it was announced earlier in the day that the format of the event would be changed.
“Due to recent logging curtailments, the ongoing Western Forest Products strike, and the economic realities facing forest industry workers, we are changing our plans for this evenings’ event,” the group announced. “We are dropping our planned presentations and instead will provide space for an open community discussion about these complex issues,” adding “Our goal has never been to antagonize forest industry workers. Our organizations do not seek to end forestry on the west coast. Yes, we advocate for the protection of rare and endangered forests, but we want to see a healthy and sustainable forest industry that benefits people in forest communities. We have a lot to learn about this, and this is our intention when we host public events on the North Island.
“We look forward to having a respectful conversation with those in attendance. There has never been a more important time to come together and find common values than now.”
But the 200 or so people who turned up to have that discussion were met with signage on the doors that the event had been canceled and instead rallied outside the facility in support of forestry in the region.
Leigh Baker and his partner Lacee Myatt were two of those community members who came out in support of the industry.
Baker works as a contractor under Mosaic Forest Management, and says he showed up to hear from “the other side of the argument,” intending on quietly attending the presentation.
“I just wanted to understand where they were coming from,” he says. “I wasn’t even planning on saying anything, but this is my livelihood. This is what feeds my family. I just went to hear why they want that to slow down.”
He says when he arrived to find the doors locked, he was “a bit disappointed, but I have to say it was also pretty heartwarming to see how many people showed up in support,” Baker says. He also says he didn’t see the “security issue” that was cited.
“I didn’t see one disgruntled face. It was just a bunch of loggers there supporting each other, having discussions. There was no hostility,” Baker says.
“Nobody wanted a conflict,” Myatt agrees. “Everybody just wants to understand what’s going on.”
Mark Worthing of the Sierra Club says they, too, would like to understand what’s going on. Worthing says the organization was told at 5 p.m. that their booking had been canceled by the city and “we weren’t really even given a clear explanation.”
“This is what’s frustrating, because it feels like we’ve kind of been hung out to dry by the City of Campbell River,” Worthing says. “It makes it look like we weren’t excited to talk to everyone, which we absolutely were. We dropped all our presentations in order to have this open discussion instead, and then they just canceled our booking.”
They’re still hoping to hold the event, however, and Worthing says he hopes that those who showed up to the impromptu rally in the parking lot come back for it again once it’s re-booked.
“I think it’s outrageous that the city has shut down public discourse like this,” Worthing says. “This is an important dialogue that needs to happen in the public right now around forestry work, the forest sector, conservation, climate change – all the important issues we were looking to talk about.
“We actively seek out the perspective of the forestry sector to try to find conservation solutions, so something went awry here, and we’d very much like to know what it was,” Worthing continues. “We don’t see anyone else hosting dialogues like this, which is why we put them on. We can’t afford not to talk about this stuff, and it needs to involve the voices of the forest sector.”