Province says government staff injured during B.C. legislature protest
VICTORIA -- The B.C. government says several staff members were injured during Tuesday's protest at the B.C. legislature.
All injuries were reportedly minor and the province has refused to say who was involved or how many were hurt.
Hundreds of protesters blocked the entrances to the B.C. legislature as Premier John Horgan's government was set to deliver its throne speech. Protesters, who have been camping outside the building since Friday, chanted “Shame” as politicians tried to enter the building with help from security.
Victoria police were called to the legislature building Tuesday morning, saying people were "pushed and shoved" on the grounds.
"This is unacceptable," VicPD said in a statement. "Peaceful protesting does not involve pushing and shoving, nor obstructing people from their places of work."
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Horgan said his government supports the rights of protesters who act "within the law."
“That said, I understand the frustration of people who have been unable to go to work today, who have been unable to enter government buildings or have been unable to get around in their communities," the premier said.
“These events show us why meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is our shared responsibility and is critical to our province and our country. This was a commitment my government made in good faith two and a half years ago, and as premier, I am determined to see it through."
Shaylynn Sampson, 20, said she and other demonstrators plan to remain outside the legislature until the province agrees to pressure the RCMP and a natural gas company to withdraw from Wet'suwet'en traditional territories in northern B.C.
“My ancestors have been doing this for hundreds of years. I'm willing to do this as long as it takes,” said Sampson, who has Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en heritage.
The RCMP began enforcing a court injunction last week against Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters who have been blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of the $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.
The Mounties concluded enforcement on Monday after arresting 28 people. Of those, six were released without charges or conditions and 14 appeared before a judge and were released with a condition to obey the injunction.
Coastal GasLink said in a statement it was disappointed that police enforcement was required to open a forest road leading to its work site but it will redouble efforts to engage with the hereditary chiefs to find a peaceful and long-term resolution. It said construction would resume this week, marking a return to work for “many members of the Wet'suwet'en community” who are employed by the project.
Enough members of the New Democrat, Liberal and Green caucuses made it into the building to conduct the legislature's daily business, said Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
“This is the people's house. This is a place where protest takes place. It's not the first time a protest has happened on this legislature and I know it won't be the last time.”
Protests also impacted the country's rail network as Canadian National Railway Co. said blockades on its lines could lead to it closing “significant” parts of its network.
CN said more than 150 freight trains have been halted since Thursday evening due to blockades near New Hazelton, B.C., and Belleville, Ont., while Via Rail said 157 passenger trains have also been cancelled, affecting 24,500 travellers on routes between Montreal and Toronto, and Ottawa and Toronto.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he is working to find a solution and warned that blocking tracks is “dangerous and illegal.”
Sampson said the various groups of demonstrators were not all connected or in contact. But when word went out about the protest in Victoria, she said community members showed up in support.
“I think this is a huge point in Indigenous history that's happening right in front of us. I think lots of people ... are recognizing that what happens to one Indigenous nation could happen to any Indigenous nation,” she said.
In Ottawa, Indigenous youth and supporters who began a sit-in just blocks from Parliament Hill on Monday said they've given the federal justice minister 24 hours to respond to their demands or they'll consider reconciliation dead.
Sophia Sidarous said while they spoke to David Lametti by phone to make their case that the federal government must intervene in the ongoing B.C. protests, the minister's assurances that he'd bring the matter up with the Liberal cabinet wasn't good enough.
“We have the right to believe, and all Canadians have the right to believe, that the justice minister has obligations to justice. It's pretty simple, right?” she asked. “There are injustices happening in Wet'suwet'en and we expect them to be addressed by the federal government.”
The group said they'll end their occupation by Wednesday if Lametti doesn't act.
But Gabrielle Fayant, another protester, said if they leave, that doesn't mean they are giving up.
“There will be more mobilization in 24 hours.”
All 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including the Wet'suwet'en council, have signed benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink. However, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say the council established by the Indian Act only has authority over reserve lands.
The hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area because they have never signed a treaty ceding their traditional territories.
Horgan has said the pipeline is of vital economic and social importance to northern B.C. He said the courts have decided the pipeline can proceed and the rule of law must prevail.
With files from The Canadian Press