Temagami protestors frustrated by government
By Adrian Leung
The role of civil disobedience in the protection of the environment and the infringement of civil rights in Ontario were the primary issues discussed in relation to the fate of the Temagami forest in the Josephine Spencer Niblett Law Building yesterday.
Leanne Mallett, a representative of Earthroots, an environmental protection organization, discussed the demonstrations that occurred last fall in Temagami and the ongoing conflict over the protection of the ancient old-growth pine forests in northern Ontario.
Mallett said environmental and civil rights are being threatened in Ontario by the policies of Premier Mike Harris' government. The unresponsive and uncompromising tone of the government illustrates its corporate agenda, she said. "We have a government who is interested in supporting corporations regardless of any of the consequences."
The rights of individuals to protest are also being affected, Mallett said, citing the arrests of 22 people at the Owain Lake blockade last fall. "Only seven people blocked access to the road while the rest were bystanders, however, all 22 people were arrested. This is a serious issue for the infringement on people's rights to express their opinion legally."
Earthroots set up the Forest Defence Camp in the fall of 1996 to demonstrate against and bring attention to the Ontario government's decision to open up half of the old-growth trees in the region to logging and mining.
"It's a criminal act to divide an ecosystem in half for development, especially when only one per cent of the original old-growth range remains," Mallett said. "It's wrong to take the last remaining forests when we know it's not replaceable."
Mallett said there is an important role for civil disobedience in the protest against environmental degradation when legal channels have been exhausted. "We're frustrated with the public process. Civil disobedience is used as a strategy to bring about change when we've done everything in the legal sense."
Jerry DeMarco, a staff lawyer for the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, said there are many hurdles for environmental groups to bring environmental challenges to court, including a lack of money and a reluctance of the courts to change the status quo. "However, the obstacles are not insurmountable since the rate of environmental litigation is increasing," he said.
The battle to save the Temagami is not over, Mallett added, comparing the environmental struggle to the fight for women and civil rights. "Things are not won in a day. Changing societal values takes a very long time and this process is still going on. We have a moral obligation to protect the environment."