Indigenous youth and allies re-occupy B.C. Legislature steps overnight in spite of injunction

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 Group plans to stay until Premier John Horgan meets with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

The B.C. Legislative building was awash with red on the evening of Feb. 24 as about 400 Indigenous youth and allies returned to the steps of the B.C. Legislature, in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline. A red spotlight was cast on to the front of the legislature and red fabric was draped over lamp posts and railings, to bring attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

This comes nearly two weeks after the group’s previous six-day occupation of the legislature ended

On Feb. 11, around 1000 Indigenous youth and allies blockaded all entrances to the legislature ahead of the Speech to the Throne. Due to the blockade, the first sitting of the spring session was cancelled, four minor injuries were reported, and many MLAs, staff, and media were temporarily prevented from entering. The scheduled ceremony for the Lieutenant Governor was cancelled, and she was forced to sneak in through an alternative entrance instead. 

On Feb. 13, an injunction was put in place on the request of Legislative Speaker Darryl Plecas.

The injunction is targeted towards groups blocking doors and preventing staff from doing their work. On Feb. 24, the Indigenous youth tested the injunction’s bounds, but didn’t break it, by holding space on the front steps in front of the ceremonial entrance. They intend to stay until Premier John Horgan meets with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

“We’re here as long as it takes, standing in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, and the Gitxsan, and the Mohawk people,” said Shay Lynn Sampson, one of the action’s organizers from the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan nations. 

Shortly after the Indigenous youth and allies began to gather at 3:00 p.m., a van from the Victoria Police Department arrived at the legislature and attempted to pull around the front, but stopped in front of a soft blockade.

“When [the van] first got here … I’d say that was pretty tense,” said Sampson.

The Victoria Police stated on Twitter that the purpose of the van was to keep officers warm, not as a precursor to arrests. 

Another police van parked on the west side of the legislature building. For most of the evening, the vehicles appeared to be empty.

Several members of the Victoria police stood along the walls of the ceremonial gate throughout the night, surrounding the Indigenous youth. On a few occasions, Sampson said the police touched some of the Indigenous youth, including Indigenous and two-spirit women, despite their repeated objections. 

Sampson expressed discomfort that the police were armed, as the action was peaceful.  The Victoria police typically carry handguns while on duty.

At time of writing, the action is not publically breaking the grounds of the injunction, which states that members and staff of the legislative assembly can not be intimidated, interfered with, molested, or blocked from entering the legislature. The injunction also protects the proper function and business of the legislature from disruption or interference.

“This order is not [to] be interpreted or construed as prohibiting any persons who wish to engage in assembly or expressive activity prohibited that such activity does not violate the terms of this order,” the injunction reads.

There are no current plans to break the injunction and risk arrest, Sampson said. Instead, the group intends to maintain their presence and continue their prayers and ceremony on the steps of the building.

Sampson reflected on how far the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement in Victoria has come since January, when 12 young Indigenous land defenders and an elder were arrested during a sit-in at the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources. 

“We’ve had a lot of community support that’s come out and really showed up, it just keeps growing,” she said. “The number of allies and people that are willing to come out and support us in the middle of the night … It’s really amazing to see.”

Throughout the night, Indigenous leaders spoke to the hundreds of gathered Indigenous youth and allies with messages of support and updates on arrests of three Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and other supporters at a CN Rail blockade. Ricochet reported six arrests were made as of 10:00 p.m. that night.

Judy Wilson, Chief of the Neskonlith First Nation and secretary treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, addressed the assembled supporters through a megaphone.

“What can we do?” Wilson said.

The crowd responded with one voice, “Stand up, fight back!”

“We’re going to be doing a lot of that,” Wilson said.