One logger guilty of assault, four guilty of mischief after attack on Elaho protesters
Although the courts set aside 10 days to hear testimony, it was all over in less than two hours.
After waiting almost six months for five loggers to face justice for an attack on a protest camp in the Elaho Valley, environmentalists say they are disappointed that the Crown reduced the charges in exchange for guilty pleas.
On Sept. 15, 1999 environmentalists allege that a group of between 70 and 100 loggers raided their roadside camp, assaulting seven protesters, three seriously enough to require medical attention. In the process, they say loggers burned tents and smashed any electronic recording equipment or cameras that may have captured the event.
The loggers were frustrated after an extended blockade and tree sit that hampered operations during the latter part of the summer. In the weeks leading up to the attack, confrontations had flared up, equipment had been vandalized, and forestry workers had lost wages.
After a five-month investigation by the Squamish RCMP, the crown laid charges against five Interfor employees and contractors. All were charged with assault and mischief under $5,000, and two were charged for uttering threats.
On Dec. 4, four of the accused pleaded guilty to mischief and one pleaded guilty to assault. All other charges were dropped. They were also counselled by the judge to take anger therapy.
"Im in a state of shock, when I stand back and look at the situation," says Western Canada Wilderness Committee director Joe Foy.
"We had between 70 and 100 loggers show up, in Interfor trucks, using Interfor radios while an Interfor vice president landed in an Interfor helicopter two miles from the site of the attack while the beatings were going on.
"Three people were hospitalized, the place was utterly destroyed, and it all comes down to one guy pleading guilty for assault."
While Foy was not in the camp at the time of the attack, he received a satellite phone call from James Jamieson who was a co-ordinator for the WCWC Millennium Tree Survey camp. Jamieson says he was dragged from his van, punched, kicked and thrown to the ground by masked assailants. They then damaged the van and destroyed his two-way radio and stole his cameras.
In a class action civil suit against Interfor and his attackers, Jamieson also claims that one of his assailants held a rock over his head and threatened to smash his head in. He was one of the protesters hospitalized with his injuries.
"When you juxtapose that against 72-year-old grandmother Betty Krawczyk sitting in prison for a year for peacefully protesting the logging, it seems like theres one form of justice for big corporations like timber companies, and one form of justice for the rest of us," says Foy.
By pleading guilty to lesser charges, Foy feels that the victims of the attack were denied a chance to tell the world what happened that day. He feels that their story would have implicated high-ranking employees in the company, if not the company itself.
"I was looking forward to two things to come out of the trial truth and justice," says Foy. "I dont think we got either."
Interfor has been criticized for continuing to employ the accused, but with the all five workers pleading "not guilty" until their recent court appearance, they had no reason not to employ them.
Now that the five have pleaded guilty, Interfors chief forester Ric Slaco says that the company will watch the sentencing, set for Dec. 7 before they decide to take any disciplinary action.
One of the victims, Sharai Mustatia, says the forestry workers and Interfor got off lightly.
"Yes, an admission of guilt to charges of mischief under $5,000 is a helpful thing. Though not satisfactory to myself who was sent to the hospital, and now continues to struggle through the trauma of the attack close to each and every day since."
Mustatia, who is part of the class action lawsuit, along with Jamieson and Bryce Gilroy-Scott (the third protester hospitalized), says she was thrown to the ground, kneeled on, and punched and kicked the face. She says that her neck was injured when one of her attackers tried to forcibly remove her camera strap, and that one of her attackers threatened to kill and rape her.
"Victims needs are blatantly ignored and swept under the rug, so to speak," says Mustatia.
Leslie Zohner, 36, Lloyd Thomas, 40, Donald Whayne Kulak, 53, and Alexander Stephen MacLeod, 22, pleaded guilty to mischief. Richard James, 44, pleaded guilty to assault. All are residents of Squamish.
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