Just before 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 20, protesters blockaded the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay with banners, chants, and kayaks. Several sailings through Swartz Bay were significantly delayed or canceled due to the coordinated efforts of over a hundred protestors on land and four protesters in kayaks.
The protest was an act of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en in the wake of the newly deployed RCMP blockade of the territory after the hereditary chiefs evicted Coastal GasLink workers earlier this month. As a response to the international call for solidarity from Unist’ot’en Camp and Gidimt’en Checkpoint on the anniversary of the RCMP raid last January, the action targeted BC Ferries as a major local industry reliant on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
A statement released by Coastal Protectors against the Coastal GasLink pipeline said the demonstration was intended to target BC Ferries’ ongoing reliance on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and condemn the Jan. 7 RCMP raids on the Gidimt’en checkpoint.
“BC Ferries has proposed ‘upgrades’ to two of its ferries that will make them reliant on the very product that Coastal GasLink (CGL) threatens to bring through Wet’suwet’en territory,” reads the statement.
The eviction of CGL from Wet’suwet’en territory by their hereditary chiefs occurred shortly after the British Columbia Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an interlocutory injunction against the Indigenous people opposing the LNG pipeline.
TC Energy, which owns a 65 per cent stake in the Coastal GasLink, says it signed agreements with 20 Band Councils to build the pipeline.
However, the traditional hereditary chiefs of the land say they did not grant consent for Coastal GasLink to undertake this project on their territory. Band Councils are elected governance structures created and enforced by the Canadian government through the Indian Act, while hereditary chiefs are traditional Indigenous leaders.
On the roads, traffic backed up to the Highway 17 intersection in Sidney. Central Saanich Police said the demonstration was a “major traffic disruption,” and advised drivers to avoid the area.
No arrests were made. According to one of the demonstration’s organizers, who requested anonymity to keep the focus of their message clear and out of fear of workplace reprisal, protesters cooperated with the BC Ferries worker’s union to conclude the protest and clear the roadway without incident around 9:00 a.m.
BC Ferries resumed sailings for the day shortly afterwards, with some residual cancelations and delays.
“As long as British Columbia continues to criminalize indigenous governments on unceded land, there is no doubt that more people will come forward to contest these injustices,” said Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, a UVic student and UVSS Director-at-Large who took part in the demonstration.
“I am there because my heart compels it, and in that regard, I am not alone.”