Forests Minister Katrine Conroy phones hunger striker Howard Breen but doesn't meet his central demand

The Nanaimo activist says he has a 36-hour window as a result of his decision today to refuse fluids

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      When the Georgia Straight reached Nanaimo hunger striker Howard Breen on Earth Day (April 22), he had just gotten off the phone with Forests Minister Katrine Conroy.

      Breen, 68, stopped taking fluids at noon today in his 22nd consecutive day without food.

      Breen said that he politely ended his call with Conroy because she wouldn't meet the only demand of Breen and fellow hunger striker Brent Eichler, who lives in Vancouver.

      "I've got a 36-hour window," Breen said. "And when the minister was starting to express her sympathies and concern—but then moved into 'I just want you to hear how much what we’ve done for old growth'—I had to interrupt."

      According to Breen, he told Conroy that he wasn't an average member of the public who hasn't done their research on this issue.

      Then he informed the minister that he didn't want her wasting any more time if she wasn't prepared to have a "public recordable meeting", which is what he and Eichler are demanding.

      In addition, Breen said he told Conroy that she could bring the deputy minister, the chief forester, and any political advisers to the meeting.

      He also let Conroy know that it wouldn't be a debate.

      Rather, he described the desired public meeting as a way to "set a baseline of clarity" regarding real distinctions between the B.C. NDP government's policies and what Breen and Eichler are seeking. They are part of a group called Save Old Growth, which wants an end to old-growth logging in B.C.

      He also said that he reminded Conroy that 600 British Columbians died last year as a result of a heat dome. Moreover, he noted that there have been huge wildfires in Siberia and the American southwest.

      "I'm not talking about just old-growth forests," Breen emphasized. "We're talking about carbon sinks all around the planet."

      Yet despite this, he said that the B.C NDP government continues cutting down old-growth forests and exporting raw logs. And that, he insisted, will make it incredibly difficult to meet any future climate targets.

      "They know I'm going to go to the wall on this," Breen said. "Should I be hospitalized and need to be resuscitated for any reason, at that point, I will have little control over the IV.

      "Once I'm recovered, I won't take any tube feeding," he added. "I just won't once I'm cognizant to realize what's going on. But I will continue the food fast in the hopes that that's the leverage that's needed to continue to get the minister to do the right thing."

      Breen is a grandfather and he acknowledged that his family members are very worried about what might happen.

      He's received calls from well-wishers, including Manitoba First Nations elder Raymond Robinson, who went on a lengthy hunger strike in 2013.

      Indigenous elder Stacey Gallagher also contacted him, offering to perform a smudge ceremony.

      Breen ended the interview with the Straight by saying he's used this crisis "as an opportunity" to walk his talk as a climate and nature activist.

      He realized that when he was put in solitary confinement after an earlier environmental action, it became clear how animals are mistreated by being put in cages.

      "I have not had any animal products since the strike began," Breen said. "I made a callout to fellow environmentalists: this is where we have to go."

      He emphasized that he is not giving this advice to Indigenous people. Rather, he believes that the traditionalists should be given back their control over their traditional foods in this province.

      And if this was done globally, he believes it would help reverse deforestation, resulting in more forests that can serve as carbon sinks.

      "The biggest reason for deforestation globally is what we do with agriculture," he said. "Look at biodiversity decline. We may save the planet, but we'll be the only species left that's sentient if we keep going the way we're going."

      Update #1

      Save Old Growth revealed later today that Conroy also called Eichler on Earth Day. 

      He has gone 29 days without solid food. He is still consuming liquids.

      Update #2

      Howard Breen was sent to hospital on the weekend. More information is available here