Cadboro Bay resident John Oberg

Gloves come off in fight to chop tree in Saanich

Saanich files court injunction against Cadboro Bay residents

At 69 years-old, Bob Furber is facing his first lawsuit. He’s baffled, shaken and turning into an insomniac, but he’s not ready to give up the fight – for a neighbourhood boulevard tree.

Last Friday, Saanich served at least three residents of the upscale Ten Mile Point area with an injunction issued by the B.C. Supreme Court to halt interference with the removal of a 30-metre Douglas fir near Telegraph Bay Road near Arbutus Road.

“We were just dumbfounded to be served with those documents,” Furber said. “I feel I’m being bullied and I just don’t know how to react. It’s a terrible feeling.”

Since the spring, Furber and a handful of Cadboro Bay residents, including Max Cowper-Smith and his wife, Jeanette Funke-Furber, have closely followed the District of Saanich’s plans to remove the fir.

The tree is infected with a fungus, and the Saanich parks department had deemed that it should be taken down, given its size and location in an area prone to high winds.

Saanich had originally set the removal date as the end of August, but postponed the process twice, based on residents’ interest in gathering more information and keeping the towering tree in their neighbourhood.

On Oct. 4, prior to any legal action from the municipality, Cowper-Smith sent a letter to Saanich threatening to file an injunction against the District of Saanich if the latest deadline for the tree removal – the following Tuesday, Oct. 9 – wasn’t extended. Late on Friday afternoon Cowper-Smith received a response stating that Saanich would go forward with the removal, as previously planned during the week of Oct. 9 through 12.

Residents were ready and set up around the tree at 7 a.m. on Oct. 9. They refused to move from below its canopy and prevented the hired tree removal service from cutting the tree.

“We are most upset that Saanich is treating us with such disregard,” Cowper-Smith said. “That having been notified of our intention to go for an injunction, they underhandedly tried to prevent us from justice by trying to cut down the tree before I could appear before a judge.”

A few days later, on Oct. 12, the gloves were off – Saanich served Cowper-Smith, Furber and Funke-Furber with the injunction requesting their restraint and prohibition from obstructing or acting in any way to interfere with the tree removal.

It also requested they remove of signs displayed on the boulevard and warned that police may remove or arrest any person involved in interfering with the tree removal.

“We responded with our own in order to make the area safe to facilitate the removal of the tree,” said Ron Roer, manager of Saanich parks. “We’re left with no alternative as we continue to be concerned with the health and safety of the community as we’re trying to balance our interests in protecting and enhancing the urban forest. An advanced stage of decay exists in this tree and in order to manage the risk, it has to be removed.”

What Furber would like to see, he says, is more evidence as to why the massive Douglas fir couldn’t be pruned instead of removed completely to mitigate the risk to the public. A solution he says, would keep matters out of court and save costs.

But following the original tree risk assessment report commissioned by the District of Saanich completed in June, which clearly states the tree should be removed for safety reasons, Roer remains unconvinced.

“It’s somewhat shocking for us to hear that there is no evidence,” Roer said. “We’ve provided them with that evidence, we’ve received no less than three arborists who have reviewed the condition of that tree and they’ve arrived at the same conclusion.”

Furber confirmed that an outside arborist hired by neighbours also agreed with the original assessment from Saanich.

Cowper-Smith was preparing the necessary court documents to sue the District of Saanich. Both applications are expected to be heard on Friday at 9:45 a.m. at the Victoria Law Courts.

Keep up with the fir fiasco at the concerned residents’ website, savethistree.ca.

nnorth@saanichnews.com