Protesters blocking the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal “by land and kayak” delayed some of BC Ferries’ morning sailings in a show of solidarity, demanding “respect for Wet’suwet’en sovereignty.”
Passengers taking ferries from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen now face a one-sailing wait, with the 1 p.m. sailing at capacity as of 11:37 a.m. There is a zero-sailing wait for sailings out of Tsawwassen.
A statement from Victoria protesters said Coastal GasLink (CGL) is threatening the “destruction of the territories and waters” governed by Wet’suwet’en people “since time immemorial.” Protesters are supporting Wet’suwet’en sovereignty and opposing RCMP actions.
The movement said it targeted BC Ferries because proposed upgrades to two of the ferry service’s vessels “will make them reliant on the very product that CGL threatens to bring through Wet’suwet’en territory.”
Cpl. Chris Manseau, division media relations officer with RCMP “E” Division, said an unconfirmed number of about 100 protesters blocked the entry to the ferry terminal starting at about 6 a.m. before ending the protest just before 9 a.m.
Manseau said RCMP officers have, in the past, charged protesters who had staged similar protests.
“Protesters have been arrested in the past in these types of events, but I am not sure that this is the route that we were planning to take at this time, but I haven’t spoken with an investigator directly yet.”
Both the 7 a.m. ferries leaving Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen were held back while BC Ferries determined “the scope of the protest.” The 7 a.m. sailing out of Tsawwassen left the terminal 70 minutes behind schedule and the 9 a.m. sailing was cancelled. Ferries were also held back at Otter Bay and Village Bay on the Gulf Islands due to safety concerns with kayakers in the water.
The movement is part of an international call for action opposing the CGL through Wet’suwet’en territory. The Central Interior First Nation territory has been a battleground between provincial infrastructure interests and the authority of the untreatied territory for a number of years.
Protest spokesperson Kolin Sutherland-Wilson of Gitxsan First Nation – a neighbouring territory – said the Greater Victoria protest is composed of allies and young First Nations people from across the province.
There was a need, he said, to stand in solidarity.
“The more people learn about what’s happening, the more details, the more they want to get out there and make a statement,” Sutherland-Wilson said. “British Columbia’s policy towards unceded Indigenous nations has regressed to where it was over 100 years ago.”
Disruption at the Swartz Bay Ferry terminal. Avoid accessing the area until further notice. Major traffic disruption.— CS Police Service (@cspoliceservice) January 20, 2020
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued an eviction notice to CGL on Jan. 4, demanding contractors and staff leave the territory and cease operations.
Sutherland-Wilson said Monday’s protest was in support of those demands and in opposition of any police force used to gain control over the site – such as the RCMP raids on the Gidimt’en checkpoint on Jan. 7, 2019.
He said, “we’re back to a time here our way of life and our traditional government is being criminalized like it was during the potlatch ban.”
BREAKING - Group blockades Highway 17, prevents BC Ferries sailings by kayaks to demand respect for Wet’suwet'en sovereignty and oppose the threat of RCMP invasion #wetsuweten #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/iQpqYtFxlO— Anna Gerrard (@_AnnaGerrard) January 20, 2020
Sutherland-Wilson emphasized the discrepancy between hereditary chiefs and the band council. He said hereditary chiefs represent traditional, cultural governance where band councils are an “imposed form of government.”
“We’ve had to fight tooth and nail to wider rights to our territories,” he said. “The fact that Horgan won’t talk with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs is appalling … As soon as we become a slight inconvenience because they haven’t, in good faith, negotiated as they should have, they are willing to do a quick 180 and make these underhanded agreements with the federal government.”
In a statement, BC Ferries said it “respects the rights of individuals to peacefully express their views, as long as their actions do not jeopardize the safety of themselves, our customers, employees and the general public.”
Public affairs executive Deborah Marshall said, “we are concerned that our customers and employees have safe and uninterrupted access to our terminals as we provide an essential service to connect communities and commerce.”
With files from Wolf Depner.
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