Loggers receive suspended sentences 

Environmentalists say sentences for violent attack are too lenient when compared to sentences given to protesters

Environmental groups are outraged by a provincial court judges’ decision to hand down suspended sentences to the five forestry workers who pled guilty to charges laid in connection with an attack on a protest camp in the Elaho Valley on Sept. 15, 1999.

Interfor, the logging company that employed the five men (three employees, two contractors) is also outraged – not because of the lenient sentences, but because they believe the judge stepped over the line when she said that the attack occurred with "tacit corporate approval".

Betty Krawczyk, the 72 year-old grandmother who is serving a year in jail without parole for contempt of court after protesting Interfor’s Elaho logging operations in violation of a court injunction, is outraged that peaceful protesters go to jail while participants in an attack on peaceful protesters get a slap on the wrist.

The only contingent that has been silent so far are the forestry workers, who pled guilty last month in exchange for reduced charges.

Driller’s helper Donald Kulak, 53, mechanic Alexander MacLeod, 22, faller Leslie Zohner, 36, and mechanic Lloyd Thomas 40, pled guilty to mischief charges, while machine operator Richard James, 44, pled guilt to assault.

All five were sentenced to one year’s probation, 40 hours of community service with the Squamish Trail Society, were ordered to write letters of apology to the protesters and to attend anger management programs.

The four workers who pled guilty to mischief were also ordered to pay $1,250 each in restitution to three protesters for equipment that was damaged in the attack, including camera gear, a satellite phone and camping gear.

According to the protesters, more than 70 forestry workers wearing balaclavas participated in the assault on the protest camp, driving Interfor vehicles and communicating through company radios.

Three of the protesters, WCWC tree surveyor James Jamieson, Sharai Mustatia, and Bryce Gilroy-Scott, were hospitalized as a result of injuries sustained during the attack.

Greenpeace was just one of many environmental groups to criticize the suspended sentences as slaps on the wrist.

"In B.C., grandmothers get a year in jail for sitting peacefully in the middle of the road. Vigilantes, on the other hand, are told to take anger management courses," says Greenpeace forest campaigner Catherine Stewart. "B.C.’s international reputation will get another black eye when word of this sentence gets out, which it will."

Ken Wu, a spokesman for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, said his group was also 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 member of the more radical Friends of the Elaho, went a little further in accusing the B.C. government and the provincial justice system of placing corporate interests before the law.

"We can clearly see how the justice system and this government condone this violence against non-violent protesters, who are using their democratic voice to oppose the liquidation of old growth forests for corporate profits," MacFirston said.

Interfor denies any prior knowledge or consent in the attack, and says it was inappropriate for Judge Ellen Burdett to slam the logging company in her closing remarks. "While there was no evidence Interfor organized the event, there was at least tacit corporate approval," the judge said.

Interfor spokesman Steve Crombie says that there was no approval for attack, tacit or otherwise.

"It was an inappropriate comment and certainly baseless," says Crombie. "Because it was said in a court room in which Interfor wasn’t even on trial, where we didn’t even have a presence, there was absolutely no ability for us to address the matter, respond to it, or ask for any clarification.

"It’s frustrating, and there’s absolutely nothing to it. We had supervisors on site at the time and our understanding was that they were trying to prevent the loggers from going down there, but were unable to control them.

"I suppose if she had said something along the lines that because there were a couple of Interfor supervisors on the site then Interfor must take some responsibility for this by extension, then obviously it’s fair game."

Crombie says all Interfor employees have gone through a course on avoiding confrontations since the incident and were under strict order all season to walk away from any potential confrontation. There has not been a single incident of retaliation against protesters this year, he says, despite 49 separate incidents of vandalism, sabotage, blockades, tree sits, and direct confrontation on the part of the protesters.

As for the future of the guilty workers, Crombie says the company will sit down with them individually this week to discuss future steps. "We’re gong to be looking at their role in what took place on Sept. 15, what the courts have decided, and discussing with them what the next steps are going to be.

"As far as the contracted workers go, when we decide on next steps with our own employees, we’ll have to talk to the contractors and suggest they take some of those steps."

Interfor hasn’t ruled out disciplinary action, but says the bottom line is that they were all valued, long-term employees.

"They’ve taken responsibility for their actions by pleading guilty, they’ve been dealt with in court, and whatever the company decides to do, hopefully they’ve learned a lesson from this."

Meanwhile, Betty Krawczyk is back in court appealing her sentence in the belief that the judge did not have the jurisdiction or precedent to deny her parole.

Most criminals are given one-third off their sentence automatically and are eligible for another third off for good behaviour. Krawczyk has already been incarcerated for more than 100 days.

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