Elaho Protester Freed From Unfit Jail Sentence

By Neville Judd

VANCOUVER, Canada, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - A 73 year old great grandmother sentenced to a year in jail after peacefully protesting logging in the Elaho Valley has been released early on appeal.

Betty Krawczyk has been imprisoned since September 15, 2000 after British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Glen Parrett found her guilty of criminal contempt of court.

Krawczyk

Betty Krawczyk. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The previous September, Krawczyk had defied a court injunction by blockading a logging road into the upper Elaho Valley, 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Vancouver near the world class ski resort Whistler Mountain.

She was protesting logging by International Forest Products (Interfor) of an area that includes Douglas firs and western red cedars more than 1,000 years old.

Parrett added to the severity of the unprecedented sentence by stipulating that Krawczyk should receive no time off for good behavior. The judge said Krawczyk's repeated defiance of court injunctions deserved a harsher sentence.

Yesterday, the B.C. Court of Appeal ordered Krawczyk's release, saying her continued incarceration could lower public respect for the courts.

"The sentence was clearly unfit," said Appeal Court justice Ian Donald in his reasons for judgment. "A term of one year was well outside the range of comparable cases."

Outside the courthouse, Krawczyk was unrepentant.

"Peaceful protest on a logging road is considered more heinous than actual criminal activity such as the Hell's Angels dealing drugs because drug dealers don't challenge corporate values," she said.

"When I stood on that logging road it affirmed human values over the profit motive and that's considered far more dangerous by corporations and governments."

Greenpeace forest campaigner Catherine Stewart praised the judgment.

"Today's unconditional discharge finally vindicates Betty's belief that she has the right to defend the environment for her grandchildren and great grandchildren," she said Thursday.

logging

This red cedar, 3.5 meters (11 feet) in width and estimated to be over 1,000 years old, was felled by Interfor in the upper Elaho Valley last year. (Photo courtesy Western Canada Wilderness Committee)
"Neither Betty nor the majority of the world community consider her actions criminal. Still, she was prepared to pay the price for standing up for her beliefs," said Stewart.

While the Louisiana native served her sentence at Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women, near Vancouver, more than 10,000 letters were emailed to B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh and 7,000 to Interfor, demanding her release and protection of the forest she was jailed trying to protect.

Krawczyk's sentence was handed down on the one year anniversary of a violent attack carried out by Interfor employees and contractors on the protesters camp in the Elaho in September 1999. Earlier this month, five loggers were convicted for the attack, which left three people in hospital.

B.C. Provincial Court Justice Ellen Burdett called the attack premeditated and carried out with Interfor's "tacit corporate approval." But none were placed behind bars. All five received suspended sentences with one year probation. Four were advised to seek anger management courses.

"The plight of the ancient forests of British Columbia is no better served by jailing forestry workers than by jailing grandmothers," said Stewart.

tree

Some trees in the Elaho date back 1,100 years. (Photo by Neville Judd)
"The real crimes are being perpetrated behind boardroom doors and fueled by government complacency. We can only hope the court's decision today is the first step towards real change in attitudes towards forestry issues in B.C," she said.

Conservation group the Western Canada Wilderness Committee spent two years researching and mapping the Elaho Valley, building the Douglas Fir Loop trail. The trail falls within Interfor's logging cutblocks in tree farm licence 38.

The Vancouver based group has long campaigned for the Elaho Valley to be protected as part of a national park reserve, to be known as the Stoltmann Wilderness. Vancouver based Interfor has suspended its logging of the valley for the winter.