Protesters blocked the Patricia Bay Highway at Mount Newton Cross Road for three hours Wednesday afternoon, but drivers travelling between the Saanich Peninsula and downtown Victoria did not even see the protest.
Central Saanich police diverted traffic at Island View Road to the south and Amity Drive to the north. “A lot of people are inconvenienced and that’s not our intent,” said Brian Sampson, a member of the Tsartlip Nation and one of the blockade organizers. “We’re not here to stop people from getting to their children at school or to their jobs or home to their families.
“It’s like everyone said here: ‘Enough is enough.’ We just want our voices heard.”
He said the blockade took place on Tsawout land, and brought together Indigenous people from across the Peninsula to express support for five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
Members of the crowd, which peaked at about 100 people, drummed and sang for much of the three-hour action.
Keating Cross Road, West Saanich Road and Central Saanich Road were very busy during the highway blockade, said Central Saanich police Sgt. Paul Brailey. A notice from Victoria International Airport said there were delays in taxis, shuttle buses and public transit getting to the site to pick up arriving passengers.
Just before the blockade ended, a man walked up to the protest group and said he disagreed with what was happening.
He was quickly removed by police, who talked to him for several minutes.
Although the province obtained a court injunction to prevent protesters blocking the Pat Bay Highway, police did not enforce it.
Police were hoping the crowd would leave by 5 p.m. as had been indicated, and that is what happened. A number of protesters thanked police as the blockade ended.
“We waited a few more minutes just to make sure that everybody had cleared, anybody on the highway was clear,” Brailey said.
Traffic was flowing on the highway within 10 minutes.
Brailey said some people expressed their displeasure with the blockade. “Lots of, to be honest, upset people wondering why it’s allowed to happen,” he said. “My talk to them usually is if you allow a peaceful protest, we’re hoping this is not a repetitive thing within our area.”
He noted that the protesters stuck to their word. “They said they would be done by five and almost to the second they were gone. That’s appreciated by us.”
The injunction states that protesters are prohibited from physically preventing, restraining or counselling others to interfere with traffic on the Pat Bay highway between Lands End Road near the Swartz Bay ferry terminal to the Victoria city boundary at Tolmie Road.
Central Saanich and Saanich police and the RCMP were authorized to arrest and remove anyone who contravenes the injunction. However, the order states that the police retain discretion as to the timing and manner of enforcement and the timing and manner of the arrest of the protesters.
Legal expert Michael Mulligan said it is a clear breach of the Criminal Code to block a highway to compel someone to do something.
“There’s no two ways about that,” said the Victoria lawyer.
One of the interesting developments in the protests has been the decision by police to wait, in some cases, for court orders before clearing blockades of highways and ports, even though there is no legal obligation to wait, said Mulligan.
The Criminal Code also prohibits mischief, such as blocking B.C. Premier John Horgan’s driveway or blocking a rail line. “That is not allowed,” said Mulligan.
The police have been exercising their discretion, said Mulligan.
“The only thing preventing police from arresting people is their judgment. That’s it,” he said.
Mulligan said the conduct of police is not at the whim of the political leaders. “The premier of B.C. has absolutely no authority to tell police to go and clear the highway. Neither does the prime minister. Although the opposition is saying ‘Why isn’t the government clearing the rail lines?’ the government has no authority to do that. That’s up to the police.”
When Indigenous youth occupied a government building last month, police didn’t burst in with a SWAT team with stun grenades and haul everyone out in 10 seconds, which they could have lawfully done, said Mulligan.
“They instead waited and encouraged people to leave, then sent in some non-intimidating officers to bring people out,” he said. “The police do not want to produce confrontation, which is what the protesters are looking for.”
Earlier Wednesday, Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en, who have been occupying the stone steps of the B.C. legislature for three days, held a news conference to proclaim their solidarity with the five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and present a list of demands to the government and RCMP.
Spokeswoman Ta’Kaiya Blaney said B.C. must revoke all permits granted to Coastal GasLink for a pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en traditional territory in northern B.C. The province must also cease its “criminalization” of Indigenous leaders and governments, she said. “The inflammatory rhetoric of the B.C. premier only serves to incite hate and violence against Indigenous peoples, standing up for our inherent rights and livelihoods.”
The federal government must also cease the “criminalization” of peaceful Indigenous solidarity actions and blockades because of its failure to meet with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Blaney said. “It is unacceptable for Canada to continue to deny Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership the dignity of having a good-faith discussion and instead trying to push the Coastal GasLink through at gunpoint.”
Indigenous young people all over the country are taking their power back, said Blaney.
“Reconciliation is dead, but our resilience, our land, our waters, our people and our resolve to protect them is very much alive,” she said to cheers and applause.
“We are here to tell our stories and to tell our truths and to remind you of your humanity. Canada, as a colonial project, has been built on our extermination. And many Canadians have not been taught that the land that they walk upon is Indigenous and it is sacred and it is life-giving.”
Indigenous children are protecting the land for future generations, said Blaney.
The group of Indigenous young people and their supporters have occupied the steps at the legislature since Monday afternoon, watched by Victoria police officers.
Supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a pipeline in their territory are planning to shut down the Patricia Bay Highway on Wednesday afternoon, say Central Saanich police.
Police have been told the 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. protest will take place near Mount Newton Cross Road, where the highway intersects with the Tsawout Reserve, said Sgt. Paul Brailey.
“Obviously, we’re expecting major delays on the highway both northbound and southbound,” said Brailey.
Police are advising people not to travel if they don’t have to. Anyone heading to Victoria International Airport or the ferry should allow extra time for the trip and ideally go before 2 p.m., said Brailey.
“We have a real concern because it’s blocks away from the Saanich Peninsula Hospital, which has a local emergency room. We ask if people do come out [that] they respect the emergency vehicles that do need to get through.”
Central Saanich police is working with the Ministry of Transportation to find alternatives for traffic travelling that section of the highway if the protest goes ahead.
Officers are also working with the Sidney-North Saanich RCMP, who police the Tsawout First Nation.
“They also are going to be required to assist with traffic diversions should the intersection be blocked because anything head ing south into town has to go through their area from McTavish onwards,” said Brailey, who urged protesters not to block the highway.
“If people want to make their point known, we ask that they stay on the side of the highway or they use the pedestrian overpass to make their point.”
Police are working with the province to come up with a way to make the protest peaceful and lessen the impact to travellers, “although that is going to be really hard to do,” said Brailey.
Rumours of the protest have been circulating on Facebook.
The Central Saanich force is calling in extra officers, Brailey said. “We will do our best with flaggers and police officers to direct traffic around and all we can hope for is a small, quick protest, positioned on the side of the road or on the pedestrian overpass, but I’m not thinking this is likely to happen.”
In January 2013, an Idle No More Protest shut down the highway, causing significant disruption, said Brailey.
Meanwhile, protesters who rallied at the B.C. legislature Monday afternoon stayed overnight and continued to block the ceremonial entrance on Tuesday. They sat beneath a massive banner that said: “They stole the children from the land. Now they steal the land from the children.” Others warmed themselves around a fire burning on the stone steps. Red banners, symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women, were draped over lamp posts and signs around the legislature.
Victoria police officers stood on either side of the door. Police spokesman Bowen Osoko said their role is to maintain public safety and to ensure protests remain safe, peaceful and lawful. On Twitter, Victoria police said the protest was not violating a court injunction that prohibits blocking of entrances, which is why police made no arrests.
After a callout to supporters Monday night, the protest group has been well-supplied with food, wood, sleeping bags and blankets.
“We got everything we asked for, but we’re still looking for a couple more tents and a couple more bodies,” said Cedar, an Indigenous youth spokesperson. “We’re quite warm. We had a nice cuddle puddle going up the stairs. It was full of love, compassion and strength. It kept us warm through the entire night.”
The supplies were brought by all members of the Victoria community,” said spokesman: ‘Makwala. “A lot of Canadian settlers really support what we’re doing here.” Cedar complained, however, that police were refusing to allow the group its “ceremonial space” by standing nearby. “And open dialogue doesn’t happen under invasion or coercion.”
‘Makwala said many of the young Indigenous youth, women and two-spirited people do not feel safe sleeping with the police presence on the steps. “They refuse to give us a little bit of space, breathing room,” he said.
The group has said it plans to stay until Friday.
Demonstrations have been occurring across Canada to back five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the building of a natural-gas pipeline in northern B.C.
“We will always be here. We will always stand up for the Wet’suwet’en and for Indigenous peoples all over. We are not going to go away as long as the state oppresses us,” said ‘Makwala.