Interfor Workers Plead Guilty to Elaho Violence

By Neville Judd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, December 5, 2000 (ENS) - Five forestry workers have pled guilty for their part in a violent attack last year on an environmentalists' camp in the Elaho Valley, north of Vancouver. But environmentalists claim dozens more escaped justice.

The five, who will be sentenced Thursday morning, are International Forest Products (Interfor) employees Richard James, Leslie Zohner and Alexander McLeod, and Interfor contractors Donald Kulak and Thomas Lloyd.

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The Forest Action Network claim this man harassed protesters at the camp. The picture was taken a month before the attack by Interfor employees, which saw three environmentalists hospitalized. (Photo courtesy Forest Action Network)
Each faced up to seven different charges including assault prior to yesterday's hearing in Squamish provincial court, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Vancouver. Ten days had been set aside to hear the case.

The trial was cut short when four of the five changed not guilty pleas to guilty of one charge - mischief. Richard James pled guilty to assault.

Joe Foy of the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee (WCWC) claimed James had taken the fall in a plea bargain. "I saw five guys facing assault charges go in to meet a prosecutor and only one, the youngest, come out still facing an assault charge," Foy told ENS.

"So at the end of the process, after 70 to 100 loggers driving Interfor trucks, communicating with Interfor radios, descend on a camp and beat up environmentalists, we have a 22 year old Interfor employee pleading guilty to assault."

The camp was and still is organized by the Forest Action Network (FAN), People's Action For Threatened Habitat (PATH) and Friends of the Elaho. The grassroots action groups are dedicated to keeping the temperate rainforests of British Columbia intact.

The Elaho is about 170 kilometers north of Vancouver and home to a grove of about 50 Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar aged more than 1,000 years old.

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The Elaho is home to an ancient grove of Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar. (Photo by Neville Judd)
Foy was not at the Elaho camp on the day of the attack, September 15, 1999. But he was in contact with James Jamieson, WCWC's Millennium Tree Survey camp coordinator. Jamieson was part of WCWC's two year effort to research and map the Elaho, and build the Douglas Fir Loop trail.

Foy received a desperate satellite-phone call from Jamieson, who said that he was locked in his van and surrounded by some 100 angry loggers. The phone call abruptly ended.

Jamieson later reported being dragged from his van before being punched and kicked and thrown to the ground. His van was damaged and WCWC's two-way radio and Jamieson's cameras were stolen.

Three conservationists were hospitalized in the attack, which saw the camp burnt to the ground.

Interfor's chief forester Ric Slaco said the company would wait until after Thursday's sentencing before deciding whether to bring disciplinary action against the employees. "The company is certainly interested in this case coming to completion," said Slaco.

"Once we've seen how the courts deal with the case, we can view discipline in a broader perspective and see where we go with it."

Slaco said the company did not condone violence or vandalism from either side in the dispute. "We've provided direct counselling and instruction to our employees on how to deal with confrontation in the work place," said Slaco.

"Since the incident, we've introduced standards for workplace behavior and a set of guidelines."

Slaco said there have been repeated acts of vandalism, blockades and worker harassment against company employees. "We assume and hope we can bring resolution to this issue but clearly everyone must abide by the law."

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British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Glen Parrett. (Photo by Bruce Bressette)
The Elaho has attracted protest for several summers. WCWC has long campaigned for the Elaho to be part of a national park called the Stoltmann Wilderness, named after late B.C. mountaineer and environmentalist Randy Stoltmann.

Vancouver based Interfor is licensed by the provincial government to log in the Elaho and has obtained several court injunctions to try to prevent protesters from interfering with its work. This has not deterred dozens of people from demonstrating their opposition by various means of civil disobedience.

Last September, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Glen Parrett jailed two non-violent protesters - 72 year old grandmother Betty Krawczyk and Barney Kearn - for a year with no time off for good behavior.

The pair were charged with criminal contempt of court for repeatedly violating injunction orders. Their jail terms are unprecedented in Canada.

"It sure seems there are two separate justice systems in Canada," said Foy. "I've seen talk on the TV of the Crown seeking anger management courses for the man who pled guilty yesterday. So the man who pleads guilty to beating gets anger management courses while Betty [Krawczyk] sits in jail for a year."

Jane Murelette, a Friend of the Elaho, said the five guilty men are scapegoats for Interfor's chief executive officer Duncan Davies and the provincial government, which "condones a culture of violence among forestry workers."

"Our determination to protect these forests and the life they sustain is fundamentally contradictory to the current for-profit management paradigm," said Murelette.

"We believe that sustainable forestry means sustainable communities and economies, not corporate control and clearcutting."