Two activists supporting Indigenous young people occupying the legislature’s front steps were arrested Thursday morning for spraying messages with chalk paint on the building, pavement and outdoor stone wall.
They were arrested for mischief and banned indefinitely from returning to the property, said Alan Mullen, chief of staff for the Office of the Speaker.
Mullen said the two people were taken into the building to be processed and released shortly after, with charges pending.
Supporters and organizers, who started a second occupation of the legislature’s front steps on Monday, painted messages that said “reconciliation is dead,” “land back” and “Wet’suwet’en strong.” The group says they’re showing solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline being built by Coastal GasLink through their territory.
In the afternoon, two legislative staff poured water on the ground and scrubbed words off the pavement in front of the building.
Mullen said the actions constitute “defacing government property,” and it doesn’t matter that the substance wasn’t permanent.
“You cannot spray-paint private property or government property like that,” Mullen said. “It has proven a bit of work to remove it.”
The Legislative Assembly Protective Services made the arrests, the first since demonstrations began at the legislature three weeks ago. Protective services employees are special provincial constables appointed under the Police Act who protect the legislature building and grounds and have authority to make arrests.
Mullen said the arrests are not related to a B.C. Supreme Court injunction that prohibits anyone from blocking, physically obstructing or intimidating people entering the legislature building.
Victoria police provided back-up during the arrests and are at the legislature supporting the protective services, said VicPD spokesman Bowen Osoko.
“LAPS officers were first on the scene when the spraying began — hence why they made the arrests. One of those arrested was allegedly spraying a message on one of the walls, which is likely why that protester was arrested right away,” Osoko said.
Shay Lynn Sampson, who is Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en, said the two supporters arrested are not part of the core group of Indigenous young people camping out on the legislature steps.
She said the group didn’t think painting messages would lead to arrests, because the substance washes off.
“We knew it wouldn’t be a graffiti charge, because it’s non-permanent and it comes off with water quite easily,” she said. “It’s Victoria. It’s pretty rainy. We figured it would come off in the rain.”
Sampson said the arrests have put the group a little on edge.
“We didn’t come here to get arrested, but we know that it’s a reality for us and that it’s possible. The presence of police around Indigenous communities has always meant violence toward us,” she said.
Sampson grew up on Hagwilget reserve in Hazelton and knows people who were at Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps on Morice West Service Road, where police made 28 arrests in early February.
She also has family who were at a CN rail blockade near New Hazelton on Tuesday that led to the arrest of three Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and 11 others.
“When people on Gitxsan territory heard about that they came in droves from all the communities across Hazelton and they shut down the Highway of Tears, which is Highway 16, and they wouldn’t leave until the leadership and the people that had been arrested were released,” Sampson said. “I think that speaks to how many people are willing to organize and mobilize.”
The group at the legislature was planning to do more painting Thursday afternoon, but decided not to go ahead with it.
Officers remain at the legislature “to ensure protests remain safe, peaceful and lawful,” a message police have repeated frequently since the demonstrations began three weeks ago.