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B.C. man says old-growth protests escalating after brief hospitalization

68-year-old Nanaimo resident was on day 24 of his hunger strike Sunday
Old-growth logging protestor Howard Breen says he was taken to hospital Sunday (April 24), on the 24th day of his hunger strike. (Courtesy of Save Old Growth)

A British Columbia man says he was briefly hospitalized on the 24th day of a hunger strike to protest old-growth logging but plans to go without food until the end of the month before joining others in escalating action against the government.

Howard Breen, 68, said a “death-watch team” at his home in Nanaimo noticed he was experiencing blurred vision, loss of balance due to low blood pressure and back pain around the kidneys before an ambulance was called early Sunday morning.

He said a doctor and his daughter, a cardiac nurse, determined late Saturday that he needed medical attention because he was at risk of suffering kidney or heart damage.

“We had a vote, and I abstained,” he said Sunday. “All I said is, ‘Just please let me go as far as I can take it.’”

Breen, a member of the group Save Old Growth, said his condition deteriorated after he stopped drinking liquids on Thursday, but he was back to drinking herbal teas after spending three hours in hospital.

His decision to get medical treatment was “based on science,” he said, “something that the current government isn’t acting on in respect to the climate and the forests.”

Breen said Forests Minister Katrine Conroy spoke with him and fellow hunger striker Brent Eichler by phone on Friday but refused to have a Zoom meeting that would be recorded and available to the public.

Conroy said in a statement Saturday that she urged both men to protect their health while the province works to protect old-growth forests.

The Forests Ministry did not respond to a request for comment from Conroy on Sunday.

READ ALSO: B.C. man wanting public meeting has ‘death-watch monitors’ on Day 23 of hunger strike

Breen said activists are planning a “citizens’ arrest” of Conroy at a Council of Forest Industries conference in Vancouver next week.

Premier John Horgan could also be targeted as part of the group’s efforts to stop all old-growth logging, what they consider “crimes against humanity and nature,” he said.

“It’s not a physical execution of a citizen’s arrest warrant,” Breen said.

Police will be urged to make the arrests, the same tactic he and other members of the group Extinction Rebellion tried against then-federal environment minister Catherine McKenna in 2019 when she made an announcement in the Victoria area.

However, Breen said police arrested him after he took out some zip ties like those officers had previously used to take protesters into custody. He was not charged because the point was for police to make the arrest, Breen added.

“In the minds and hearts of Canadians we are stepping up the consciousness-altering mindset that we are empowered to uphold our democracy and our rights.”

Thirty-three other activists with Save Old Growth planned to join the hunger strike until the end of April, Breen said.

Two members of the group were arrested last week after allegedly chaining themselves to a 227-kilogram barrel placed in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island.

“We only allow those types of actions with the most seasoned activists because it’s not the faint of heart who can be that vulnerable,” Breen said, adding any actions aimed at having “the most highest level of success” will remain non-violent.

Save Old Growth activists have also blocked other major highways and bridges, drawing the ire of some motorists.

Eichler, 57, who said he has been on a hunger strike for 31 days, noted the group is not asking for an end to all logging in B.C.

“We need to have houses for people and that sort of thing. But we can’t keep cutting down the very small amount of old growth that’s left in our ecosystem,” he said.

“Once they’re gone it will be like the cod (fishery) on the East Coast. The governments were warned by the scientists that the cod were going to disappear. We still don’t have a commercial fishery in Eastern Canada, to this day, decades later.”

Earlier this month, Conroy announced the British Columbia government worked with First Nations to defer logging across more than a million hectares of old-growth forests at risk of permanent loss, an area greater than 4,100 Stanley Parks.

READ ALSO: B.C. researchers developing tool to measure climate distress in real time

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

The Canadian Press

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