RCMP are seen here making arrests May 17 near Argenta, B.C., north of Nelson. A group had been camped out protesting a logging company’s plans for the area. Photo: Louis Bockner

RCMP are seen here making arrests May 17 near Argenta, B.C., north of Nelson. A group had been camped out protesting a logging company’s plans for the area. Photo: Louis Bockner

West Kootenay timber company asks court for identities of protesters’ social media managers and supporters

Judge reserved her decision in Nelson court Sept. 23

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,Valley Voice

An organization protesting against logging in the Argenta area at the north end of Kootenay Lake may be forced to identify its social media managers, if requests by the logging company are accepted by a judge.

Lawyers for Cooper Creek Cedar appeared in B.C. Supreme Court in Nelson on Sept. 23 to ask the court to order Last Stand West Kootenay to reveal the names of their website and social media managers.

“They are alleging that account has created wrongdoings related to encouraging people to breach the injunction and counsel people to cause harm to Cooper Creek,” says the lawyer for Last Stand West Kootenay, Noah Ross.

The protesters were trying to stop the logging of 6,200 hectares of forest on the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face, on the northeast shore of Kootenay Lake when RCMP arrested 17 of them in May. The Autonomous Sinixt and Lower Kootenay Bands have also called for a halt to the logging and for environmental protection for the area. However, the logging of five cutblocks went ahead and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month.

In its court application on Sept. 23, Cooper Creek Cedar asked for an order that Facebook provide the first and last names, contact information provided at time of registration, and IP addresses of the last 300 logins and logouts of several individual Facebook and Instagram accounts.

The company also asked for similar information from the domain registry company GoDaddy and the fundraising platform ConnectionPoint.

Justice Lindsay Lyster reserved judgement and will release a decision at an undisclosed date.

Ross says court requests for the identity of the social media managers or individuals online isn’t legally unheard-of, but it’s not usually applied to cases like this. He says it is more common in cases of fraud, where money is being transferred to an unknown person, or a person is making defaming statements from an anonymous account.

“It’s a fairly unusual order, to give up the identity of an anonymous Facebook or Instagram account,” says Ross. “They’re saying wrongdoing was done to them, but they are conversely not pursuing charges against anyone who was arrested, whose identity they know already.

“There isn’t precedent in a social-disobedience context for such an order.”

Ross says all Last Stand West Kootenay did was invite people to come to the site and witness the protest. He says he argued that the application shouldn’t be granted unless there is evidence of wrongdoing.

“Telling people to come and witness at a site where some people are engaging in civil disobedience isn’t an offence, and it’s important to protect the ability to promote that, because we have a society where different people have different beliefs,” he continued. “And witnessing people engaging in expressions of belief is something people are allowed to do.”

He said it’s pretty clear what Cooper Creek Cedar was trying to do.

“It appears they are trying to kind of intimidate people from being involved in this kind of organization,” he says.

The Valley Voice reached out to Cooper Creek Cedar’s legal firm but did not receive a comment by press time.

Ross said he would also oppose another proposed motion by Cooper Creek Cedar for an information request for people who posted statements of support on other Facebook pages.

Earlier charges in limbo?

The expected court appearance isn’t directly related to the arrests made at the protest site earlier this year.

Seventeen members or supporters of Last Stand West Kootenay face charges of civil contempt of court for participating in or observing a protest that blocked Salisbury Creek Forest Service Road in the spring. That action allegedly violated a 2019 court order, and police dismantled a protest camp on May 17 and arrested participants. Two others were arrested June 1 in a further protest.

But when the defendants appeared in court in July, Cooper Creek said it would “invite” the Crown to proceed against the defendants on charges of criminal contempt.

But Ross says since then, nothing has happened.

“They haven’t pursued that, so no one has been formally charged with wrongdoing from the protests in May,” he says. “The arrests haven’t gone anywhere.”

And nothing may happen for some time. He says the logging company still has two years to act on the charges.

With files from Nelson Star reporter Bill Metcalfe.

READ MORE:

• Complaint filed against RCMP for alleged ‘unlawful’ arrest tactics at Argenta protest

RCMP make arrests at logging protest north of Nelson

Blockade set up by protesters ahead of contested logging in Argenta area