A 68-year-old activist who has been on a hunger strike for more than three weeks has been hospitalized, according to his allies.

Nanaimo resident Howard Breen began his hunger strike on April 1, demanding a public meeting with BC’s Forests Minister Katrine Conroy, as well as an end to all old-growth logging in the province.

Breen stopped drinking liquids at midnight Friday morning, to coincide with Earth Day.

In an interview that day, he told CTV News he had “pretty much 36 hours to go” before suffering serious health consequences due to the lack of fluids.

“Everyone is hoping that I don’t push the envelope to the wall, and certainly that’s not my desire,” he said at the time.

“I love life, but I’m less afraid of, frankly, death at all – in the same way that I’m not fearful of prison for what we’re doing. But my weak spot is definitely my children.”

In a statement Sunday morning, Save Old Growth, an activist group of which Breen is a member, said Breen had been experiencing “blurred vision, loss of balance, back pain around the kidneys and arrhythmia.”

His daughter, who is a nurse and was part of the team monitoring him around the clock during his hunger strike, assessed him and called an ambulance, according to Save Old Growth.

The organization described Breen’s hospitalization as a sign of the provincial government’s callousness.

“At this point, it is definitively clear that the NDP are more than happy to allow one of their citizens to die rather than hold a meeting with the public they claim to represent,” the group said in its statement.

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Conroy did reach out to Breen and fellow hunger-striker Brent Eichler, a 57-year-old Vancouver resident who has been going without food for 31 days, on Friday.

Breen told The Canadian Press on Saturday that he hung up on the minister because she wasn’t willing to commit to a public meeting.

“She was just giving me this typical line,” he said. “With the urgency that the moment requires, there was no time, really, to be wasted further discussing something that (she) was prepared to meet us halfway on.”

In a statement to The Canadian Press, Conroy said she had “meaningful conversations” with Breen and Eichler.

“I conveyed my distress for their well-being while listening directly to their concerns. I urged them to protect their health as we continue the important work to protect old-growth forests,” she said.

Breen called the conversation “polite,” but said other action taken by Save Old Growth, including recent blockades of bridges and major roads, points to the seriousness of the “climate emergency” linked to logging.

However, he denied some commuters were angry about the group’s tactics, saying there is widespread support for those participating in various forms of protest while risking arrest. Two people were taken into custody last week after allegedly chaining themselves to a 227-kilogram barrel placed in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island.

They want the BC government to stop all old-growth logging in the province.

Members of Save Old Growth are among the more than 1,000 people who have been arrested in the Fairy Creek watershed northwest of Victoria for allegedly violating an injunction against blockades.

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The BC Supreme Court has heard that about 400 of them were charged with criminal contempt.

Breen said the RCMP arrested him elsewhere for other protests and that he is currently facing 12 charges, including for three times when he glued his hands to logs.

The province appointed an independent, two-person panel in 2019 to review old-growth policies and is also consulting with the public.

Conroy announced earlier this month that BC was working with First Nations to defer logging across more than a million hectares of old-growth forests at risk of permanent loss, an area greater than 4,100 Stanley Parks.


With files from Camille Bains of The Canadian Press


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