Karma Member’s Report re Fairy Creek Blockade

By Marilyn Lazar

On August 18, Karma Co-op member Avery Florence put on a benefit concert in support of the Fairy Creek Blockade on Vancouver Island. The concert was held at Bickford Park in Toronto. Karma Co-op was one of the generous event sponsors, serving their signature samosas, a favourite of Florence’s which she purchases at every visit to Karma. About 150 people attended on a perfect summer evening.

Florence, a professional singer songwriter, is also a passionate environmentalist. She first heard about Fairy Creek through family friend Tzeporah Berman, a well-known environmental activist who has held many high profile positions and has been involved in many campaigns including the logging blockades of Clayoquot Sound almost thirty years ago.

Avery Florence singing at the Fairy Creek Blockade benefit concert on August 18th, 2021

Florence ventured out to Fairy Creek where she learned about the crucial biodiversity of the old growth forests which protect water systems, contribute to healthy soil and break down air pollution. These functions are not replicated by new plantings. Florence also witnessed the resistance firsthand. She was moved by the collaborative spirit and Indigenous wisdom. She came home determined to do something about the dire state of affairs and to inspire others to get involved as well. She says the concert was more about raising awareness than raising funds. Addressing the audience to kick off the evening, Florence said:

“Just because something is deemed illegal, does not always mean it is wrong, as I’m sure many of us can attest to from this year. Fairy Creek is a resistance of all types of people who have been camping out for over a year in a forest on Vancouver Island to protect the last remaining 3% of old-growth trees. Some of these trees are over 1500 years old and they are literally the roots of a diverse ecosystem that cannot simply be replanted. The reason these trees are being cut down is greed.

Fairy Creek is not only about Fairy Creek, or only about one forest. It is about people banding together peacefully to protect our future and our humanity; to say enough is enough. The situation is nuanced, of course, but in my eyes, it’s simple; we need trees. We need our planet to survive. In British Columbia, the rainforest is being destroyed at three times the rate of the Amazon; more than 500 soccer fields per day.”

The Fairy Creek blockades on Southwest Vancouver Island may be the biggest civil disobedience campaigns in Canadian history, with the number of arrests rising daily – teetering toward 1,000 at the writing of this article. Protesters have only their bodies to block the logging and are standing up to increasing violence at the hands of the RCMP which The Globe and Mail called “the rise in police aggression”.

Old growth forests in the province, which literally purify air quality and keep temperatures cool, are on the brink of extinction. Meanwhile, even as forest fires rage in BC, logging continues in unceded territory with questionable legality, destroying trees that are close to two thousand years old. Avery Florence’s concert was aptly billed “Worth More Standing” (a title not unique to her concert).

Canadian journalist and award-winning author Arno Kopecky, writes: “A surge of filmed arrests in mid-August exposed a degree of violence that RCMP spokesmen have struggled to explain. Officers deliberately tore the masks off blockaders, dragged them by their hair and pepper-sprayed their eyes at point-blank range. It was bad enough that several MPs demanded that Public Safety Minister Bill Blair investigate the situation.”

Although, the RCMP is keeping media at a distance – again, with questionable legality – video footage abounds and is very disturbing, ranging from protesters resignedly preparing to be pepper-sprayed in the face, to scenes of RCMP officers roughly holding a petite woman by the neck, kneeling on the backs of people already lying prone on the ground and protesters’ cars being demolished for no discernible reason. One video shows three different officers taking the time (paid for by tax dollars) to kick, stomp on and fully destroy someone’s guitar. 

Justine Hunter of The Globe and Mail reports from BC that “… the court has rebuked the RCMP over its enforcement tactics. In his written reasons published in early August, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson ruled that the RCMP had overreached its authority by creating checkpoints and exclusion zones in the injunction area. “I have found that the police actions interfere with important liberties of members of the public and members of the media. … These RCMP blockades are unlawful.”

By contrast, Florence’s concert was an idyllic gathering of music fans, environmentalists and curious, peaceful people who came to learn and to help. Her event’s stated mission was to:

  • raise awareness about Fairy Creek outside of Western Canada and motivate people to get involved and inspire change; 
  • help heal the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples; 
  • create an event with a collaborative and hopeful spirit, raise funds for Fairy Creek; 
  • do it all with minimal waste or environmental impact

Mission accomplished. All proceeds went directly to the Fairy Creek front lines, a fund administered by the Rainforest Flying Squad, the original group which started the blockade, to support basic needs and legal expenses. Audience members sat peacefully on the grassy hills of the park, amid hand-painted signs with slogans such as: “At least let’s tell the kids we tried” and “Respect your elders”. 

Hand painted signs at the benefit concert

Florence was joined by band mates Emily Gelinas on viola and Quincy Bullen on electric guitar. She sang many originals including a song she composed for Fairy Creek called Stand. She also performed a cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, still sadly relevant. There was a performance by the Indigenous drumming band Young Creek. Indigenous elder and muralist Philip Cote spoke at length and offered attendees the opportunity to make a wish over a pinch of tobacco they threw into a roaring bonfire. Florence finished with a soft acoustic rendition of “Dear Friend”, one of her first songs written about the personal pain and injustice of world politics.

Certified Sound Practitioner and recording engineer Ruthann Klayton of Tune In Sound Therapy soothed the energy with a therapeutic sound bath. Using a variety of quartz crystal bowls and drums tuned to different auditory frequencies, she took the audience on a journey through immersive sound under the stars as the evening drew to a close, respectful of sound regulations in the residential neighbourhood. 

But the most poignant moment of the entertainment-filled and informative evening came during the powerful livestream update from Fairy Creek. Musician Luke Wallace, who has been living at Fairy Creek for months, described life at ground zero and made a plea for more people to come help. He ended by saying: “The trees are fine y’all. They’re just standing here. It’s us that need saving.”

Avery Florence has returned to Fairy Creek to learn more and help with the resistance.

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