Indigenous youth-led overnight occupation of B.C. Ministry offices ends in 12 arrests

Campus Local National News Provincial

Indigenous protesters in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en chiefs taken into custody after over 18 hours of sit-in

An Indigenous youth-led Wet’suwet’en solidarity action occupied the offices of the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources for over 18 hours, from 11:00 a.m. Tuesday into the early hours of Wednesday morning. The Victoria Police Department took 12 individuals into custody over the course of four hours during the night, with no charges currently laid.

Armed police began restricting access to the building at 7:10 p.m., separating the protesters inside the ministry from support outside. Inside the building, the youth-led protesters live-streamed the sit-in, giving statements on their Instagram stories and drumming and singing throughout the day.

The protesters echoed the demands put forth by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, including cessation of construction on the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the withdrawal of the RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territory, and that the UNDRIP and principles of free, prior, and informed consent be respected by the government and the RCMP.

According to one of the protester’s media spokespeople, there was no response from the Ministry or from provincial government aside from a re-issue of the letter from John Horgan that was not accepted. 

Municipal police maintained a heavy presence throughout the night, negotiating the delivery of food and water to protesters inside. Over 30 armed officers were on the scene when arrests began around 3:00 a.m., stationed at building exits, patrolling the area, and enforcing a police line outside the doors of the ministry.

“Despite numerous efforts over 15 hours to resolve the situation without arrests, officers were requested to remove the protesters by the building owner once negotiations failed,” said the Victoria Police Department in a statement. “Officers acted under the lawful authority of the Trespass Act to effect these arrests.”

The first arrest of Ma’amtagila matriarch Tsastilqualus was a chaotic struggle between police and supporters outside the building who attempted to intervene.

Officers forced their way through the crowd, throwing several civilians to the ground before finally securing her in the waiting police van. Protesters surrounded the vehicle, with several of them throwing themselves down on the road to block its path. Police forcibly removed them, escorting the van onto the main road before it was able to safely leave the area.

The remainder of arrests took until almost 6:00 a.m. to complete, with officers separating the protestors, some of them linked together by lock boxes, and carrying them out one-by one as supporters chanted and live-streamed the process. They were held in custody until the Ministry building was cleared of supporters.