Hundreds of demonstrators have stationed themselves outside various provincial government offices on Friday to continue to raise awareness in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
The protests are part of a movement that began last week after the arrests of Wet’suwet’en people defending their territory in northern B.C. against the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
In Victoria, the movement reached a controversial point when hundreds of demonstrators barred politicians from entering the B.C. Legislature ahead of the Throne speech on Tuesday, prompting Victoria Police to attend and make a passageway through protesters for people to enter the building.
Two days later, the B.C. Supreme Court authorized an injunction giving police the authority to arrest anyone who tries to block the entrances of the Legislature building.
Amid these tensions, VicPD stated that they would be keeping an eye on Friday’s “BC government shutdown” event in case demonstrators tried to blockade any roads.
Friday’s “BC government shutdown”
However, the demonstrations on Friday which began at 8 a.m. and concluded at 12 p.m. were largely peaceful with no staff prevented from entering any of the Ministry buildings that were picketed, and no roads being blocked.
Indigenous youth and allies on site have reported no negative interactions with either members of the public, politicians, or police and stated that most people have been very supportive.
“It has been a really good experience overall. You can see people building community and having a good time being around people that are passionate about the same thing,” said Hannah Gentes, an Indigenous youth in Victoria.
“The event today was planned and shared very publicly and there’s no chance of arrest whatsoever. What happened at Legislature was very much proaction, all legal, but there were some blockades, some miscommunication, so there was some contact between people trying to get in and out and things escalated a little bit,” she adds.
Gentes clarifies that their movement is not “anti-pipeline” but rather a specific protest against government and RCMP actions in Wet’suwet’en territory.
“We have had a lot of people pass by that were already aware of it but wanted more information, and there were some people that weren’t aware and took [our pamphlets] so we’re really hoping to spread the message that Canada is breaking its own law by doing what they’re doing in Wet’suwet’en land.”
The response to the demonstrations on Friday appear to have been positive overall.
Outside the Ministry of Communications and Public Engagement, one picketer was seen holding a “Honk if u ❤️Indigenous rights” sign sparking enthusiastic cheers from demonstrators whenever passing vehicles honked their horns.
While dozens of picketers flocked to different ministries around town, one man staked his claim on the steps of the B.C. Legislature building.
“I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the injunction,” says Errol Povah, answering the question of why he was the lone protester at the site of past demonstrations.
“It does not prevent people from protesting at the Legislature so I would encourage people to come here. It’s a little chilly in the shade but other than that it’s a great day to fight against all of this injustice that’s going on regarding the CGL pipeline, TMX, etc.”
— Brishti Basu (@brish_ti) February 14, 2020
Some demonstrators stated that ministry workers may have been sent a memo allowing them to work from home in light of the planned protests on Friday.
“But the few ministry workers that have come, we’ve had some really awesome conversations. And most excitingly we’ve had a lot of civilian passersby that have engaged with us, had conversations, taken our leaflets…” says supporter Nat Karpovskaia.
The spirit of Valentine’s Day was also not forgotten, as demonstrators at the intersection of Douglas and Broughton Streets handed out coffee and homemade cookies to passersby.
— Brishti Basu (@brish_ti) February 14, 2020
The protests appear to be wrapping up.
No #yyjtraffic disruptions we're aware of.
Peaceful event. #yyj
— Victoria Police (@vicpdcanada) February 14, 2020
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.
Premier John Horgan has since called a joint meeting of Gitxsan Simgyget, Wet’suwet’en Dini Ze’ and Ts’ake ze to discuss the ongoing protests, thereby ending the CN rail blockade in northern B.C.
Photos of Friday’s event