Youth were detained inside Legislature for four hours following sit-in while over 100 supporters outside waited
Five members of Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en were arrested for mischief and detained in the B.C. Legislature building on Wednesday night, following a meeting with Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser and subsequent sit-in. Prior to being carried out of the legislature and later released from police custody, the Victoria Police Department detained the five demonstrators in the B.C. legislature for four hours.
Earlier that night, Fraser agreed to meet with seven Indigenous youth inside the Legislature following a request earlier that day by the demonstrators to meet with a minister from the government to demand the removal of Coastal GasLink and the RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territory. The Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en have been sleeping on the legislature steps for 16 days.
After the meeting concluded, the youth expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome. Two left to communicate with supporters outside, and the remaining five refused to leave the building, proceeding to stage a sit-in. A livestream from inside the building appears to show the five Indigenous youth getting arrested around 9:00 p.m. before it was shut off by a police officer.
None of this could be seen by legal observers, members of the media, or supporters outside, as the curtains of the room were closed shortly after the arrests. The crowd of over 100 supporters outside gathered in a circle around a ceremonial pyre on the legislature lawn, and Ta’Kaiya Blaney, one of the Indigenous youth who was present in the meeting with Fraser, gave an update.
“We asked him if he could stand with us and condemn Coastal GasLink’s operation within unceded and sovereign Wet’suwet’en territories. He said it was outside of his jurisdiction,” Ta’Kaiya Blaney said.
“[The five Indigenous youth] have demonstrated what leadership looks like when Canada fails to.”
She led the group in chanting the names of the arrested Indigenous youth inside the legislature — Navidu Willie, Ace Harry, Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, Saul Brown, and Shay Lynn Sampson — while the curtains stayed closed.
From 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., very little was known about the whereabouts of the Indigenous youth inside the building. For hours, Indigenous youth and a steady crowd of over 100 supporters waited for any updates.
At this time, legal observers and lawyers on scene were denied entry to the building.
At 11:00 p.m., supporters outside were told that the arrested youth may be taken out of the building through underground tunnels if the police feel the crowd was obstructing them. Blaney called this a “negotiation tactic,” saying police were “playing with the safety of Indigenous youth to leverage with us.”
After this announcement, Blaney and a few of the other members of Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en encouraged supporters to make a circle around them and join them in song. The crowd was still about 200 strong, and lined the pathway towards the back parking lot — where two police vans were parked. Shortly after, those same vans quickly drove off.
It wasn’t until 1:00 a.m. that tensions rose significantly. After word quickly circulated that police were near Douglas Street at Belleville Street — behind the Fairmont Empress — several supporters from the larger group ran over. Once they arrived, they quickly discovered that no Indigenous youth were inside the police vehicles there.
At the same time, Victoria Police and Legislative Security were readying an entrance on the west side of the legislature building to transport the Indigenous youth outside into waiting police vans. Four of the arrested demonstrators were carried into the vehicles, and one walked. The path was lined by a crowd, but videos from the scene do not show any interference with police.
Meanwhile, over in a parking lot at Douglas Street and Belleville Street, Indigenous youth, allies, and police engaged in a standoff for about five minutes. After one Indigenous person placed himself in front of a police vehicle, the officer continued to drive and ultimately hit the Indigenous person.
After this, a group surrounded two police vehicles present and blockaded a police van. Members of the Victoria Police shone their lights brightly and put on their sirens while Indigenous youth drummed and yelled things like “we keep us safe” and “this is what reconciliation looks like” at the police. The scene was extremely tense and confrontational, as the crowd filmed with their phones and repeatedly asked the police information about their badges and what they were doing.
The five Indigenous youth were taken in two seperate police vans to the Victoria Police Headquarters at 1:30 a.m. Although repeated attempts were made on scene to give a letter to the arrested individuals from their counsel, police refused to identify the arresting officer or take any letters.
In a statement released this morning, the Victoria Police Department said their investigation into the mischief charges is ongoing. They claimed the 100-person crowd caused the delay in removing the arrested demonstrators from the building and prevented them from addressing other emergency calls.
Minister Scott Fraser said on Thursday morning that his hope in the meeting last night was to “de-escalate” while the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs continue to discuss the proposed deal they’ve negotiated.
On Wednesday morning, the Indigenous youth sent a written request to the minister to request a meeting. Although Green party MLAs Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen met with the group earlier in the month, no other members have met with them at the legislature. Most recently, NDP Melanie Marc met with the Indigenous youth after they occupied her constituency office in Vancouver.
Olsen was also present in the meeting with Fraser, as a witness. It was their understanding that the youth would leave following the meeting.
“The youth were articulate and eloquent in sharing their lived experience as Indigenous people,” Olsen said in a statement on Thursday morning. “I am disappointed that the Indigenous youth representatives chose to disregard their commitment that allowed this dialogue to take place.”
The five youth that were arrested have been released, on the condition that they do not return to the legislature grounds. As of 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, the Indigenous youth began to pack up their occupation of the legislature steps.