B.C. Premier John Horgan addressed the media in a press conference on Wednesday to talk about the events on Tuesday in which provincial staff, politicians, and reporters were barred from entering the Legislature ahead of the Throne speech.
He began his speech by referencing his party’s foundation of protests in the 1930s and his own history as an activist, and went on to state that the events of Tuesday were “unprecedented”.
“Yesterday was when people were denied access to their workplace because they were seen as symbols of the government,” he said, talking about staff at the Legislature.
“That’s unacceptable. To have a group of people say ‘You are illegitimate…you are somehow a sellout to the values of Canadians’ is wrong.”
Over the past six days, Indigenous youth and allies have camped out at the BC Legislature steps, blocked two main bridges and, ahead of Tuesday’s Throne speech, blockaded all entrances to the BC Legislature building in an effort to prevent politicians and journalists from entering.
Their actions are part of a nationwide movement spurred by the arrests of Wet’suwet’en people defending their territory in northern B.C. against the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
One of the group’s requests was to have Premier Horgan meet with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs to receive and adhere to their demands.
In the press conference on Wednesday, Horgan defended his reasoning for not responding immediately to Tuesday’s protests, stating that yesterday was a heightened emotional period and that he spent the past 24 hours coming to terms with what is “clearly a shift from traditional protest to something quite different.”
“We must allow peaceful dissent but also make sure there’s a complete understanding that you need to allow other people to have liberty and go about their business in a free and fair way,” said Horgan, before calling Tuesday’s protests “unprecedented”.
While maintaining that the rights to protest must be upheld, the Premier pointed out that pushing, shoving, and barring people from entering their workplace has never been a part of protests he has seen in the province in the past.
Horgan specifically referred to the experience of new interns who were arriving for one of their first days of work at the Legislature on Tuesday, and were repeatedly shamed by demonstrators for doing so.
“They were shaken,” said Horgan. “That one group of young students were here to add to the flavour of our Legislature. People who work here everyday, like support staff, they did not sign on to be ridiculed and pushed and jostled.”
On victories and law enforcement
Indigenous youth and allies rallying to support the Wet’suwet’en people at the Legislature on Tuesday declared their movement a victory, having successfully disrupted the day’s events. However this view was not shared by the Premier.
“If that is winning I don’t want any part of it. We were here yesterday to have a speech from the throne read by the Lieutenant Governor and that happened. I don’t see that [the protests] as a victory at all,” said Horgan.
At one point during the 45 minute press conference, the Premier was asked about the role of police and whether or not officers would be more proactive during future protests.
“I don’t want to live in a society where politicians direct police to take action against others without appropriate reason to do so. That’s why we have courts,” Horgan responded.
“Law enforcement is in a very difficult position at all points across B.C. and across Canada. It’s very difficult for law enforcement to find that fine line between protecting protestors and protecting people going about their business. I don’t have a magic answer to that.”
On the other hand, Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt – who was on site as of the supporters of the protests at the Legislature on Tuesday – publicly announced his disapproval of Victoria Police’s role during the protest, and of officers seeking witnesses to alleged assault incidents at the event.
When asked about his view on Isitt, Premier Horgan had little to say.
“My thoughts on that man are not printable. I spoke with mayor Lisa Helps and I do not view city council in Victoria as a mirror image of him.”
“I believe that dissent is important in a democratic society but that dissent has to be in a manner that allows people to go about their business,” Horgan stated.
On February 6th, youth protestors in Victoria issued the following demands to their government representatives:
- That they do everything within their power as a Canadian politician to ensure that the
following demands of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are met, and provide proof of
their efforts to meet the following demands via direct contact with the youth,
- That the RCMP and associated security and policing services be immediately withdrawn
from Wet’suwet’en lands, in agreement with the most recent letter provided by the
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD)
- That the province cease construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project and suspend
- That the UNDRIP and Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are respected by the state and RCMP,
- That the provincial and federal government, RCMP and private industry employed by
CGL respect our laws and our governance system, and refrain from using any force to
access Indigenous lands or remove Indigenous people, and
- That the BC Premier and relevant Ministers meet with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs to
receive and adhere to these demands.
“There’s a misunderstanding on what hereditary leadership is and we’re working with Indigenous groups to figure out the complexities. We’re trying to grapple as a government of what those different points of view mean,” said Horgan, in conclusion.
The Premier is expected to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland today to discuss the ongoing protests.