Zain Haq and Save Old Growth block Trans-Canada Highway to protect old growth trees

Haq hopes the protests will galvanize more support from the public

Two protestors holding a banner that says “Save Old Growth” with a police officer standing in the background, along with a police car.
Environmental protestors face arrests and prison time for their activism. PHOTO: Courtesy of Save Old Growth.

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer

Activists from Save Old Growth blocked traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway on January 10, 2022. According to their press release, their sole demand is for old-growth logging to cease immediately in the province of BC. This protest has continued several times a week, leading to a total of 28 arrests as of January 20, and is part of a three-pronged campaign. 

The Peak spoke to SFU student and co-founder of Save Old Growth, Zain Haq, to learn more about the campaign.

“For the past 30 years, not just the government and the media, but even the climate movement have been using euphemisms to talk about the climate emergency,” said Haq. “We’re trying to cause drama and tension in society and we’re trying to make a fuss so that the government can start taking this seriously.”

Haq explained the historical precedence of Insulate Britain and Freedom Riders show non-violent disruption of the public social space is needed when dealing with entrenched power, such as the government. Non-violent civil disobedience is a public, “conscientious breach of the law” where the main goal is to disrupt the status quo and pressure for change in laws or governance of a state. 

He said Save Old Growth follows these campaign strategies of making a minor demand of the province, hoping the win will galvanize the movement. Save Old Growth’s only demand is to halt all old-growth logging in BC. 

“If we can’t get this win, we can’t get any win,” said Haq. “It’s on a provincial level and it’s something that the party has promised itself, so it’s one of the first things that the party should be able to do. And if they can’t do that then they don’t have any intention to do anything in the future.”

On their party platform, the BC NDP promised to “implement recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review to protect further old-growth stands — in addition to the 353,000 hectares [they] protected.”

Save Old Growth has developed a strategic three-tier plan stretching over a course of several months including information sessions and non-violence training. Haq said in February and early March they will be off the roads to do province-wide recruitment of potentially hundreds of activists willing to get arrested multiple times and return to blocking the Trans-Canada Highway at multiple points across the province.

“We’re dealing with entrenched power to an extent that the government is facilitating what is inevitably going to be mass starvation when we go over 2 degrees and the collapse of civilization [ . . . ] We have to really raise the stakes a lot higher,” said Haq.

Haq was arrested twice at the Fairy Creek Blockade and saw the initial enthusiasm and energy cease over time as activists got burnt out. He said although over a thousand arrests were made, the efforts at Fairy Creek have not resulted in legislative change. 

“What’s going on at Fairy Creek is a defence but if you’re always defending, we’ll never be able to win and we need to go on the offence,” said Haq. “Because it’s been in the woods, it’s been isolated — it’s been contained. What we’re doing is we’re going around that and we’re trying to make it so that it’s not contained anymore and it’s out in the open in the eyes of the public.”

Haq confirmed he is going to prison for two weeks on February 15 for violating the Trans Mountain pipeline injunction. He said once a large number of people start getting arrested, it becomes a massive reputational, economic, and judiciary cost to the government. 

“Once the fear goes away and people start getting arrested and going to prison in large numbers, there’s a tipping point beyond which the state cannot have more arrests,” said Haq. “I will be one of the few people who have been to prison in the climate movement in Vancouver [ . . . ] and it’s a process of starting to tell people that it’s not the end of the world. The end of the world is the end of the world.”

For more information on Save Old Growth check out their website and social media accounts.