A judge has authorized police to arrest and remove protesters who trespass on Marine Harvest property or interfere with operations at their Port Elizabeth, Midsummer and Swanson sites.
After months of occupation and alleged interference and threats by protesters on their Port Elizabeth, Midsummer and Swanson farm sites, Marine Harvest filed a civil claim in the Supreme Court of B.C. to see them removed. Justice Peter Voith granted the injunction on Dec. 22, after hearings on Nov.14 and Dec. 14.
“We had sought this injunction after many months of protest activity and numerous failed attempts to begin dialogue with protest organizers,” said Vincent Erenst, Marine Harvest Canada managing director. “Our staff must be able to work in a safe environment, free of harassment and intimidation.”
The civil claim was brought against Alexandra Morton, Ernest Alfred, Sherry Janine and the other protesters whose identities were unclear to Marine Harvest, called “John and Jane Doe” in the court documents.
The occupation of Marine Harvest property began on Aug. 24, 2017 at the Swanson farm site located near the northern shore of Swanson Island, according to Voith’s Reasons for Decision document. Three days later there were approximately 30 occupiers at the facility. They built tents and a wood structure on the walkways around the fish pen.
On Aug. 31, occupiers also boarded the Wicklow Point farm and set up tents. They left a week later but returned on Oct. 5. Occupiers set up camp at a third farm site, Midsummer, on Sept. 4 and remained there until Nov. 17. Tents were set up at the Port Elizabeth site on Oct. 15.
“The tents, bunkhouse, kitchen and outhouse were all placed on separate walkways and were placed in a manner that interfered with the ability of the staff to do their work,” Voith said.
As well as the structures, vessels ferrying people and delivering supplies and equipment often moored to the farms’ walkways without authority.
During these times Marine Harvest alleges that there was equipment tampering as well as threatening behaviour towards their staff.
“Some staff from the Midsummer site, and from another site, have indicated that they may not return to work in light of the occupation,” Voith said. “Marine Harvest has had to implement a compensation premium for site staff working at these locations in order to address the difficult circumstances that its staff are facing.”
Marine Harvest also hired private security guards at the sites to make staff feel more secure.
Occupiers have also allegedly interfered with harvesting as well as smolt restocking operations.
“These individuals positioned themselves under the crane of a fish-carrying vessel as it attempted to unload smolts into a pen,” Voith said. “The unloading could not proceed because it would have been unsafe to do so.”
On another occasion, the RCMP intercepted Morton and Alfred on a walkway near where smolts were being offloaded.
“The exchanges that are described in the materials, particularly on the part of Mr. Alfred, are antagonistic and threatening,” Voith said.
An argument from the occupiers’ attorney was that the claimants have an aboriginal right under the authority of hereditary leadership to govern their ancestral land, and that right extends to the responsibility to protect the water and resources that support their culture and way of life.
“It was asserted that an incident of this right to govern is the right to ‘monitor’ the activities of persons or entities that pose a threat to these various interests,” Voith said.
However, Voith concluded that occupiers Karissa Glendale and Molina Dawson have gone much further than “monitoring.” Both have delivered “eviction notices” to Marine Harvest, and Glendale accepts that she has, on one occasion, interfered with Marine Harvest’s activities.
“They have also expressed an intention to continue with these activities though they say they wish to do so peacefully,” Voith said. “Respectfully, none of this is consistent with a desire to ‘monitor’.”
As well as concerns for their business and protecting their employees, Marine Harvest raised concerns about the safety of the occupiers, who are on site without adequate protective equipment and who have had to be helped or who have fallen into the water.
In their application materials, they submitted correspondence from the local fire chief describing the potential fire hazard that arose from the wood stoves and heaters that were placed in the temporary structures, as well as the propane tanks, power tools and generators that are not usually permitted on the farm sites.
Marine Harvest has also written to the occupiers expressing concern that their structures, on comparatively narrow open water walkways, would be unsafe in severe winter weather conditions.
Voith also took into consideration threats that were made online on both the Get Fish Farms Out Facebook page as well as Alfred’s personal page.
Occupiers also risked the bio-security of the broodstock at the Potts Bay facility when a scuba diver went in a pen with the fish.
“It is un-contradicted, on the evidence before me, that [Marine Harvest] has, on numerous occasions, offered to sit down with the defendants, or some of them, to discuss their concerns,” Voith wrote. “The defendants have had no interest in such discussions.”
The judge added that the lawyer acting for the protesters, Greg McDade, did not contest the validity of the federal and provincial permits issued to Marine Harvest, and Dawson and Glendale are not representatives of an indigenous group that could lay claim to the area.
*With files by Hanna Peterson and Tom Fletcher