About 1000 people stand in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at doors to B.C. Legislature and neighbouring government buildings
For the first time in B.C.’s history, the B.C. Legislature’s throne speech ceremony was cancelled, due to an occupation in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people on the front steps that has been ongoing since Feb. 6. Indigenous land defenders and allies staged soft blockades outside all 16 entrances to the building, and at the entrances of the nearby Douglas Building and legislative bunker.
Ahead of the throne speech, the B.C. Government announced last night that the Lieutenant Governor would not enter through the ceremonial gate at the front of the building, as is convention. There was speculation that the Speaker Darryl Plecas would file an injunction to have the demonstrators removed, but this did not come into fruitiation.
The group is standing in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and demands respect for Wet’suwet’en Indigenous Law. The Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw decision affirmed that the 58 000 kilometres of territory in British Columbia’s north is under the title of the Wet’suwet’en people, to be governed by their hereditary chiefs.
The Coastal GasLink Pipeline (CGL) is being constructed through this land without the hereditary chief’s consent and the RCMP are enforcing an injunction filed by one of the pipeline’s funders, TC Energy. The project has the consent of Indigenous Band Councils , a system created through the Indian Act, although the councils only have jurisdiction over small parcels of land reserved by the Indian Act. The $6.6 billion pipeline would transport Liquified Natural Gas, or LNG, to Kitimat for overseas trade.
After locking down the legislature’s front steps for six days, the group’s demands remain unmet. One of those demands include meeting with Premier John Horgan about the RCMP raids on Wet’suwet’en land and the CGL pipeline. Horgan cancelled media availability today, but issued a statement after leaving the building through a tunnel exit.
“British Columbians have the right to peaceful protest,” Horgan said. “My government continues to be available to engage with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs … Reconciliation is hard work.”
Although some staff, guests, media, and MLAs were blocked by the demonstrators in the morning, others were able to get through for the 2:00 p.m. throne speech — some with the help of Victoria Police escorts. In the morning, reports showed some MLAs and media, including Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham and Richard Zussman of Global News, were temporarily blocked from entering.
At one point in the morning, a staff member from the legislature pushed through a crowd of minors. Another person trying to enter the Legislature ended up pushing a demonstrator onto the ground. Victoria PD is investigating after a few government staff reported minor injuries.
These actions led to the cancellation of the day’s first session.
Throughout the day, chants, songs, and drumming could be heard around the building.
“This is not our choice … but this we must do, unarmed, with love,” said Rocelle Kooy, former Green party candidate, as a crowd raised their hands in a traditional Indigenous show of support. Kooy is a member of Samahquam First Nation and has strong family ties to Stswecem’c Xgat’tem.
In the afternoon, organizers with megaphones spoke to the crowds about the definition of a soft blockade and warned them of the potential for arrest. After this point, there are no known reports of anyone being denied entry to the legislature building.
Police were on scene, but no arrests have been made at the time of writing.
As the Lieutenant Governor began reading the throne speech, the soft blockades ended and around 1000 people gathered in front of the Legislature.
Inside, the throne speech voiced the government’s priorities of affordability and made mention of reconciliation and UNDRIP.
Although not all members were able to get inside and attend the Throne Speech, three notable people inside were Green interim leader Adam Olsen, MLA and Green party leadership candidate Sonya Furstenau, and former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. The Green party has been supportive of the Wet’suwet’en and voted against the Coastal GasLink pipeline 14 times.
However, the Greens are now in a confidence and supply agreement with Horgan’s NDP — meaning that they must support Horgan in seat count to ensure the NDP retains power over the government.
This video shows Saul Brown of the Heitsuk and Nuu-chah-nulth nations.
Olsen and Furstenau met with Indigenous land defenders on the legislature steps over the weekend. The group demanded Olsen and Furstenau compose a written statement, invoke the confidence and supply agreement that upholds the NDP government, and join the group outside on Tuesday.
“I will continue to use the voice that I have inside this place to speak very strongly to the situation that is playing out on the landscape in this province,” Olsen said in a press conference. “I’m certain that I will work everyday in this house to ensure that the situation that we inherited is not the situation that future members of this place inherit.”
As of 8:00 p.m. on Feb. 11, the Indigenous land defenders on the steps have announced they will begin cleaning up camp. Calling it a successful day, they say this move is because they want to “walk away proudly” rather risk violent removal by the Victoria Police Department.
The group still plans to blockade various B.C. government offices on Friday. A mass multi-day demonstration for Indigenous rights like this is largely unprecedented in B.C.’s capital, so any type of resolution remains unclear.
“We don’t want to be here, but that is our duty to be here when there is such injustice … we want Horgan to remove CGL from the Yintah, we want the RCMP off the Yintah, and as soon as they meet those demands were happy to go,” Indigenous youth and organizer Gina Mowatt said. “But until then, we live here.”
With flies from Alec Lazenby and Emily Fagan.