Protesters were outside the Serious Coffee on Blanshard Street in Victoria Wednesday morning after protesting at the Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources through the night. Twelve protesters were arrested by police during the occupation. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

UPDATE: Police say ‘misinformation’ spread after arrested protestors file police complaints

A dozen Wet’suwet’en supporters were arrested in Victoria

The 13 people arrested in Victoria for holding a sit-in in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation a last week have filed complaints against Victoria Police Department, citing racism and injuries allegedly received during arrests.

The protesters, who call themselves land defenders, blocked the entrance to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources on Blanshard Street for approximately 18 hours, starting at 11 a.m. on Jan. 21. The group was asking that demands of the hereditary chiefs regarding stopping work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline be upheld, observed and respected.

Hereditary chiefs have taken a stance in conflict with members of the Wet’suwet’en Band Council, some of which support Coastal GasLink – the 670-kilometre pipeline set to run from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada’s export facility in Kitimat.

READ MORE: Protesters block B.C. government building entrance to support Wet’suwet’en First Nation

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs said several people in attendance of the sit-in were injured. A University of Victoria law student, Alexia Manchon, attended the sit-in and monitored interactions between the protesters and police and said in a statement that one person may have received an arm injury, while another person received a facial injury that may require surgery.

Victoria Police Chief Const. Del Manak said a lot of “misinformation” had been spread after the events, adding that police were present in some form or another for approximately eight hours before arrests were made.

“When they made the arrest, [police] were acting in the lawful execution of their duty. They were arresting individuals who were given every opportunity to leave peacefully. They were told that after 15 hours that they had made their point,” Manak said. “I can tell you that members of the Victoria Police Department exercised a tremendous amount of restraint, despite having physical and verbal abuse directed at them for many many hours from many of the protesters that were outside.”

Manak said that police offered everyone to go free, but that 13 individuals refused to leave and were arrested. He added that police were made aware of one injury after arrest.

“I am aware that there was somebody that had a facial injury, I’m not sure to what extent of that injury was,” Manak said. “There was one person who, when they were being processed in our jail facility was indicating that they may be injured and we asked them if they wanted immediate medical attention…they were asked on a couple of occasions and at that point they refused medical attention. That’s not to say that they didn’t feel worse the next morning or later on and sought medical attention. But our goal is always the safe resolution of a peaceful protest.”

One other person said they required medical attention during the arrest, but chose not to see the police medic because the officer was armed. Manak said it took approximately 30 minutes for a paramedic to arrive on scene, and that this person did not go to hospital.

Victoria Police Chief Const. Del Manak said a lot of “misinformation” had been spread following several arrests after a lengthy protest at the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources on Blanshard Street. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

People arrested were held for a short period before being released. So far charges have not been laid.

Those arrested sent a formal complaint to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) and held a press conference at the University of Victoria (UVic) on Wednesday morning.

Shay Lynn Sampson, a Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en UVic student who attended the sit-in, said the fallout has been “intense” and has taken a toll on her community. She noted the protest was peaceful and focused on prayer and solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.

“When police arrived, that’s when violence ensued,” Sampson said.

READ MORE: 12 Wet’suwet’en supporters arrested by VicPD

Tsartlip First Nation Chief and Union of BC Indian Chiefs vice-president Don Tom also spoke at the conference, noting that he was proud to stand with the Indigenous young adults and rebuke the VicPD statements about what took place.

“If we look at the recent history of RCMP not allowing hereditary chiefs past the checkpoint and we have the VicPD here in Victoria giving misinformation regarding the arrests and the treatment of the youth who were peacefully defending Wet’suwet’en rights, it’s very concerning,” Tom said. “They have to be held accountable.”

Victoria Police said no youth were arrested, with the youngest person being 18 – an adult under the Canadian Criminal Code– and the oldest being 66. The average age in the group, Manak said, was 30.

Ta’Kaiya Blaney, 18, was the last to be arrested. During the press conference, she said police “went beyond their duty” and treated the Wet’suwet’en supporters with “hatred and racism.”

“It was heartbreaking to hold ceremony, to sing, to pray with these Indigenous youth and see the way that they were treated by police that night,” Blaney said.

Manak said that there was “not any evidence” of racism, and from what he’d seen and heard “the officers maintained a high level of professionalism under difficult circumstances.”

Protestors also claimed that police denied the entry of food and water into the building.

Manak said police had been investigating whether weapons were present when food arrived, and delayed the delivery of food until circumstances were better understood, approximately half an hour.

VIDEO: Wet’suwet’en activists say Victoria arrests a ‘perpetuation of violence’

Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Andrea Spindler confirmed that the OPCC received “several” complaints regarding police conduct during the sit-in. She said each complaint will be reviewed and investigated by the independent civilian organization.

VicPD said they would be compliant with any and all investigations.

“We welcome the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner to investigate and look into this matter,” Manak said.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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