- SPECIAL REPORTS
- THE MAGAZINE
By Judith Lavoie and Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist
Published: Saturday, December 22, 2007
Drumbeats, battle cries and animal-like yells rang out from tree platforms scattered through a patch of Langford forest yesterday as protesters interfered with survey work on a planned highway project. Masked protesters ran between trees, while others gathered around the two surveyors, physically handling their equipment and pulling out stakes and ribbons.
"Please get clear of my instrument," said one surveyor, anxiously watching protesters muddle the sensors of his $50,000 Leica surveyor's gun by twirling the lenses.
The man, who would identify himself only as "Bruce, a contractor for a private engineering firm out of Victoria," said he and his assistant were warned they would run into protesters, who have occupied the area since April in an effort to stop the proposed $32-million Trans-Canada/ Spencer Road interchange. But, they were not prepared for confrontation, he said before deciding to retreat for the day.
"They won't let me do my work, so I'm going to phone my boss and go home early," he said. "I think they should be dealing with this in court. Civil unrest rarely results in anything positive."
His younger assistant appeared shaken.
Tim Stevens, Langford project manager, said the city asked the surveyors to go to the site and "and will carefully consider how we want to proceed."
Protesters, well set up with a communal kitchen, say they will stay for as long as it takes and are expecting a court injunction that could be enforced by the RCMP if disregarded.
Tree platforms and traverse lines, allowing protesters to travel between platforms, are the heart of the camp, said Kalanu Johnson. The number of people living at the camp has fluctuated, and at times it has been empty.
Johnson, who spent a month living on one of the platforms, said it was "a beautiful experience. It was when the screech owls were nesting," he said.
Protesters are trained in civil disobedience including the use of lock down tubes where they wrap their arms around trees and lock themselves in.
"I want to make it clear that everything that we'd do out there is absolutely non-violent civil disobedience. There's nothing out there that we're doing that would be outside of that scope," said organizer Ingmar Lee.
Lee, said they prefer being charged with trespass or mischief, so they could air their concerns in court. But, there is also the worry about what tactics the RCMP might use to remove them, such as the voltage-packing Tasers.
"We're actually building vests -- Taser resistant vests out of very heavy duty rubber and that sort of thing," Lee said.
The idea prompts chuckles from Langford deputy Mayor Denise Blackwell, who says the municipality will probably proceed by way of court injunction when the time comes to cut trees and bulldoze land.
"What we've said is once we're ready to go, if they're there then we might have to seek an injunction or something."
Originally the municipality had planned to start falling trees in December, but municipal clerk/administrator Rob Buchan says work now likely won't begin until January.
The West Shore RCMP have started sending members out to view the site and establish a relationship. "We're giving them a familiar face and we're going to be going back and forth to their camp on a regular basis now with the same people so they can establish a familiar face to talk to," said Cpl. Gerry Sutherland last week.
"We're going to try to open up a dialogue and liaison and let them know who's going to be dealing with them if anything arises."
Protesters say the patch of second-growth forest at the end of Leigh Road has "culturally modified trees" and karst features such as a cave and karst sink holes, which are at risk because of the planned interchange. (Culturally modified trees are trees with strips of bark or planks removed by First Nations for traditional use.)
Lee says both the archeological assessment and the environmental assessment of the area are flawed, listing neither the modified trees or sinkholes.
While Langford has moved the interchange route to bypass the cave, the alignment threatens karst sinkholes -- underground limestone formations -- said Lee.
Municipal officials, meanwhile, say they've done everything required by the province.
"We've had an archeologist go through the site. We've had an ecological, environmental assessment. We've done all our due diligence. There's no species at risk. We've adjusted alignment protecting the pond; protecting the cave," says Buchan.
"What I'm hearing from everyone is just get on with it," says Mayor Stew Young in a recent interview. "You can't break the law. If the law says we're going ahead, a few people will not stop what has to be done for the majority," Young said, explaining the interchange is needed because of congestion on limited roads which can be dangerous.
Young said the municipality will proceed by whatever legal means it has.
"They have a right to protest. We're not saying don't protest, we're just saying do it lawfully. But when they break the law it won't be us in there, it will be the RCMP to deal with it."