NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was challenged by a small group of young environmentalists on Thursday following a media availability in Toronto over his positions on old-growth logging at Fairy Creek in British Columbia and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The group from Climate Justice Toronto unrolled a banner that said “Support Fairy Creek” and demanded he support an end to all old-growth logging in B.C.
“He’s going to lose votes in B.C. if he doesn’t take a firm stand on this,” said Niklas Agarwal, a 25-year-old climate activist from Toronto.
“This needs to be integral if he wants to win the youth vote.”
Singh wouldn’t unequivocally lend his support to the group’s cause.
If he did, Singh would put himself at odds with NDP Premier John Horgan, whose government is letting old-growth logging continue, though it has approved the request of three First Nations to defer logging in part of their territories that includes Fairy Creek.
The Fairy Creek watershed is one of Vancouver Island’s last remaining unprotected old-growth stands of coastal temperate rainforest with some trees up to 2,000 years old.
The area is in the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht, Huu-ay-aht and Ditidaht First Nations, who in June issued the declaration to defer old-growth logging in the area for two years while they make plans to manage their resources.
Pacheedaht’s chief and council support the logging and have condemned the actions of protesters even though some members support the blockades.
Singh countered the arguments by Climate Justice Toronto activists by stating he is a fierce defender of Indigenous rights and a decision about logging can’t be made without First Nations’ input.
“You wouldn’t take away the rights of Indigenous people,” Singh said to the group.
“We can’t come in, as settlers, and tell them what to do.”
Logging company in court this week
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was also challenged by protesters over Fairy Creek logging during an earlier campaign stop in Vancouver.
The Fairy Creek protest is now the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. As of this week, organizers say more than 1000 arrests have been made by RCMP enforcing a court injunction against the protests.
Demonstrators arrived at the site about one year ago to prevent Surrey-based logging company Teal-Jones Group from working.
A subsidiary of the company, Teal Cedar Products, is in hearings this week at the B.C. Supreme Court asking for a one-year extension to the injunction.
Lawyers representing a number of protesters are challenging Teal Cedar’s application this week too, arguing the extension shouldn’t be granted due to the severity of climate change.
WATCH | NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sidesteps questions about TMX:
The company obtained the injunction against the protesters on April 1, which the RCMP have enforced since mid-May amid criticism of excessive use of force and obstruction of the press.
Singh spoke out against police force tactics that escalate violence during a Sept. 1 virtual town hall with B.C. residents.
Singh is pledging $500 million to support Indigenous-led stewardship programs to help protect old-growth forests and advance reconciliation.
Agarwal commended the commitment, but urged Singh to be bolder and take a clear stance on what the NDP would do with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Singh sidestepped a question on Thursday about whether he believes Canada can meet its emission targets with the expansion project operating.
While Singh says he does not support TMX, he has not committed to stopping the project.
Instead, Singh said he would assess TMX because the NDP does not have all the details about what the federal government owns and how to find the best path forward.
“It’s really disappointing because in the last election, he was very firm in his stance against TMX so to see him backsliding,” Agarwal said.
“Jagmeet claims to be about youth. He films TikToks about us. He does sound bites about us. But does he actually speak to our issues?”