25 Oct 2022

Canal Road tree protesters escape convictions in Auckland District Court

6:08 pm on 25 October 2022
The fate of 100-year-old native trees in the Auckland suburb of Avondale has prompted an early morning protest.

The protest at the site of the 100-year-old native trees in the Auckland suburb of Avondale lasted from July of 2020 to March of 2021. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Four protesters who were arrested while protecting native trees from the axe last year have avoided criminal sentences in Auckland District Court today.

The group was involved in a lengthy 245-day occupation of a residential development on Canal Road in Avondale, where they blocked crews from clearing the land's native trees.

The protest against the felling of 23 trees, each roughly 100 years old, lasted from July of 2020 to March of 2021.

Mana Rākau protesters Zane Wedding, Hanna Luypers, and Trav Mischewski were all offered diversions that, if completed, would see their charges withdrawn and nothing added to their records.

Steve Abel, who had already been offered a diversion last year, was discharged without a conviction.

Abel and Wedding said they stood by the actions that got them arrested last year.

"I actually felt proud to be locked in that cell," Wedding said. "In that moment, my wairua, it just felt so full."

Wedding, Luypers, and Mischewski were charged with trespass for occupying the private land, which was being developed by Made Homes.

Wedding said he felt his arm snap when he was held down by security.

"In that cell, I knew my arm was broken," he said. "My back couldn't stop spasming from the beating."

But he did not have any regrets, he said.

"When that subsided, I felt warm. There is no better way to honour my tūpuna than to fight for whenua."

Thirty native trees at a Canal Road property in Avondale are facing the chop.

Native trees being chopped down at the Canal Road property in Avondale in 2020. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Mana Rākau's occupation ended with more than a dozen arrests, and had serious ramifications for some of the protesters.

Before his arrest, Wedding was an arborist and lecturer at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

"The course that I ran, it doesn't exist anymore," he said. "I know that's connected to the actions I took on that day. I'm basically not even in the arboriculture industry anymore."

Abel said it was a frustrating outcome.

"Those are significant life consequences. People are taking a stand for what should already be the law, that trees are protected," he said.

"Because of the failure of the law, we're the ones in court today."

Abel said Mana Rākau was not discouraged by its failure to protect the trees at Canal Road and was now spearheading a petition to reinstate general tree protections, which were removed in 2012.

"When that was removed by John Key's government, we saw the chainsaws coming out across our biggest cities," Abel said.

"The consequence of that is we've lost a third of the urban canopy, which is a phenomenal loss in the space of 10 years."

Wedding said those protections had to return.

"Prior to 2012, I never ever would've had to do this as an arborist," he said. "These trees never would've been removed under that system."

The four protesters will not be required to pay any court costs.

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