No Jail For Loggers Convicted in Elaho Violence
By Neville Judd
SQUAMISH, British Columbia, Canada, January 8, 2001 (ENS) - Five loggers convicted for their part in a violent attack on an environmentalists' protest camp in 1999 will serve no jail time in sentences handed down by a Canadian judge last week.
Environmental groups have condemned the sentences as lenient, particularly when compared to the one year jail term handed down to 72 year old great grandmother Betty Krawczyk.
B.C. Provincial Court Justice Ellen Burdett said the attacks carried out on the camp and its occupants September 15, 1999, were premeditated and directly involved at least 10 to 15 of the 70 men present that day.
Three people were hospitalized in the attack on the camp occupied by members of 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 home to a grove of about 50 Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar aged more than 1,000 years old.
Burdett had harsh words for International Forest Products (Interfor), the Vancouver based company logging part of the Elaho Valley.
Three of the men sentenced last Thursday are Interfor employees. They are Richard James, Leslie Zohner and Alexander McLeod. The other two - Donald Kulak and Thomas Lloyd - are Interfor contractors.
James pled guilty and was convicted of criminal assault. The other four men pled guilty to and were convicted of criminal mischief, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a C$2,000 (US$1,335) fine.
All five received suspended sentences with one year probation. The men must take anger management classes, send letters of apology to the victims and undertake 40 hours of community service.
Four must pay C$1,250 (US$834) each in restitution to the victims. James, the only man sentenced for criminal assault, is not required to pay restitution to the victims.
"We are pleased that the B.C. Provincial Court recognizes that these men from Interfor are guilty of anti-environmental criminal violence," said Ken Wu of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC).
WCWC's tree survey coordinator James Jamieson claims to have been dragged from his van before being punched and kicked and thrown to the ground during the September 15 attack. His van was damaged and WCWC's two-way radio and Jamieson's cameras were stolen.
"The Wilderness Committee condemns violence by anyone," said Wu. "The only people charged, convicted, and sentenced for criminally violent activities of assault and property destruction in the Elaho Valley are these men from Interfor."
But Wu was disappointed by the sentences. "The courts have sent a strong message that violent criminal assaults against environmentalists will not be looked at as serious crimes while those who peacefully protest the destruction of our ancient forest heritage should expect extremely lengthy jail sentences."
Douglas MacFirston, a Friend of the Elaho, said he was outraged.
"The powerholders in this province will stop at nothing to ensure they keep making their money while the natural heritage of all people of this province, especially the native nations who have never surrendered sovereignty are robbed of a future with a sustainable forest economy."
Greenpeace called the punishment a slap on the wrist.
"In B.C., grandmothers get a year in jail for sitting peacefully in the middle of the road," said Greenpeace forest campaigner Catherine Stewart. "Vigilantes, on the other hand, are told to take anger management courses. B.C.'s international reputation will get another black eye when word of this sentence gets out, which it will."
While applauding the judge's critism of Interfor, Stewart took issue with Burdett's suggestion that "calculated provocation" by the protesters should be a mitigating factor in sentencing.
Interfor was displeased with some of Burdett's comments. "We were very surprised by the judge's suggestion that Interfor had somehow given tacit approval for the attack," said Interfor spokesman Steve Crombie.
"We expected something to the effect that because Interfor employees were involved and that because a couple of supervisors were on site at the time, Interfor must take some of the responsibility.
"But beyond the people on site, the company had no knowledge of the attack until afterward. To suggest there was implied approval is ridiculous. It's a baseless suggestion and an unfortunate choice of words."
Crombie said the company will meet the three convicted Interfor employees this week.
"The possibility of further disciplinary action will be part of the discussion," said Crombie, who added that the men would be given a chance to explain themselves and have their employment records taken into account.
"The issue with the protesters is that they have defied court orders two or three times."
Originally, all five loggers faced up to seven different charges including assault. The time set aside to hear their case last month was cut short when four of the five changed not guilty pleas to guilty of one charge - mischief. Richard James pled guilty to assault.