Victoria councillor accuses police of campaign to discredit Indigenous protesters
VICTORIA -- As Victoria police search for witnesses to alleged assaults at an anti-pipeline protest at the B.C. legislature Tuesday, one Victoria councillor is lashing out at the police department, accusing it of waging a campaign to discredit protesters.
Coun. Ben Isitt took to social media Wednesday, the day after police said they were investigating reports of assaults at the legislature, to accuse senior police brass of straying from their public safety mandate and into the realm of politics.
"I stand by my comments, which respond to a growing problem of 'mission creep' with VicPD management, engaging in a PR campaign against peaceful demonstrators, city councillors & others advocating for change," Isitt tweeted. "These kind of political communications are outside of VicPD's mandate."
The comments were in response to a statement from Victoria Police Chief Del Manak, who accused Isitt of being "off base and disrespectful" for claiming the Victoria police were spreading disinformation to discredit Indigenous youth and their supporters at the legislature rally.
Hundreds of people, including Isitt and fellow Coun. Sharmarke Dubow, gathered at the legislature for several hours Tuesday, many blocking entrances to the building as the provincial government prepared to deliver its throne speech at the start of the legislative session.
The Victoria Police Department says four people reported being assaulted at the rally. Three of the victims received non-life-threatening injuries, while the fourth was not physically harmed though a piece of equipment they were carrying was damaged, according to police.
Alan Mullen, chief of staff to B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas, tells CTV News there were at least three reports of injuries at the legislature, including among staff.
"There was one report that somebody was spat on, there was another report that inadvertently somebody was elbowed in the face in the scuffle and had a nosebleed," Mullen said.
A member of the sergeant-at-arms security team also reported falling and suffering a hip injury, he said
The B.C. Ambulance Service tells CTV News there were no requests for medical assistance at the legislature Tuesday.
"I was there all day observing interactions between the public and legislative officials," Isitt tweeted in response to the news that police were investigating reported assaults. "This allegation is #hogwash designed to discredit Indigenous youth and their supporters. VicPD’s mandate is to ensure public safety, not spread #fakenews."
B.C. Premier John Horgan weighed in on the issue at the legislature Wednesday, answering a question about Isitt's participation at the rally.
"My thoughts on that individual are not printable," Horgan said of Isitt.
"I spoke with [Victoria] Mayor [Lisa] Helps today and assured her that I do not view the city council in Victoria as a mirror image of Mr. Isitt," the premier said. "He will carry on living his life the way he does and will have to reckon with that as time goes by."
The online spat between Isitt and Manak is just the latest blowup in a contentious relationship between the city and the police department.
Last month, Isitt accused Victoria police officers of using excessive force in arresting anti-pipeline protesters at B.C. government offices in Victoria.
"I think police used excessive force, to be honest" Isitt said on Jan. 22, the day after the arrests at the Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources building. "I think it was an unnecessary use of tax dollars – our finite resources – on policing."
The province's Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner is currently reviewing the claims and will decide whether or not to launch a formal investigation.
Victoria police and city politicians have been at odds over raising the police budget since at least 2018, when the municipality voted down a request to fund four new officers.
Last July, the police department terminated its eight-officer crime reduction unit in order to better staff the ranks of its frontline patrol officers. Prior to that decision, VicPD announced it would roll back the hours of its front desk staff member to deploy that officer to the streets in light of budget constraints.
The mayors of Victoria and neighbouring Esquimalt, which is policed by VicPD, have said the ongoing funding issues underscore the need for a regional police force in the capital region.
Coun. Isitt did not respond to CTV News requests for comment Wednesday.