Somewhere between the sudden refusal of five anti-pipeline protesters to leave the B.C. legislature at 8 p.m. and their removal in handcuffs at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, there was a pizza party.
Takeout pizza may have been handed in a window from more than 100 people gathered to impede Victoria Police from arresting five of seven protesters who demanded and got a meeting with B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser on Wednesday.
— Jas Johal (@jasjohalbc) March 5, 2020
Led by Ta’kaiya Blaney, a member of the Tla’amin Nation on the Sunshine Coast who came to prominence as a child activist against the Northern Gateway oil pipeline in 2010, the protesters repeated their demands to tear up court injunctions, provincial environmental permits and more than $100 million in community benefit deals for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, under construction across northern B.C. from Dawson Creek to Kitimat.
“We stand against the man camps,” Blaney broadcast on Facebook during the occupation of Fraser’s legislature office. “We stand against police brutality.”
The Facebook page and many other social media feeds delivered pleas for more people to arrive and support the blockaders, as security called in police.
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) March 7, 2020
Blaney and hundreds of others were repeating slogans that have echoed outside the building since days before a cordon of mostly university students tried to shut down the B.C. NDP government’s throne speech on Feb. 11. Signs held up over the past month outside their growing tent camp used images and messages repeated across the country as roads and railways were blockaded: “Reconciliation is dead” over an inverted Canadian flag, and the ever-present “Shut Down Canada!”
Blaney’s version of events leading to the office occupation is directly contradicted by Fraser, who says he offered trust and respect to a small delegation, then was betrayed in a premeditated move to force a confrontation with police that would be beamed around the world.
“At the very end [of the meeting],” Blaney told her live-stream audience Wednesday night. “Scott Fraser said that he could not fulfill our very basic demand of standing in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en and with the Indigenous youth who have occupied outside of his office for the past 10 days, in standing against Coastal GasLink, because he said it was outside his jurisdiction.”
Fraser says no such conversation took place. In fact the Coastal GasLink pipeline and LNG Canada export facility are entirely within B.C. jurisdiction, unlike the Trans Mountain oil pipeline that has run across the Alberta border to the B.C. Coast since 1954. The two projects are frequently confused by protesters, and some leaders intentionally conflate them by claiming the gas pipeline could be converted to carry oil.
Fraser said he discussed with Speaker Darryl Plecas and the head of legislature security a request to allow seven protesters from the sprawling, smoky camp outside to come in for a meeting.
“We came to an agreement that we would allow a small contingent in, as opposed to going outside. It wouldn’t have been too productive I don’t think, with the bullhorns and such, to have a respectful dialogue,” Fraser told reporters Thursday morning. “There was no discussion that because I failed to condemn the pipeline there was going to be an occupation.”
The meeting was set for 45 minutes and lasted twice that long until 8 p.m. Fraser said it was “respectful” throughout, but there was no pizza provided by the province.
“They asked for a few minutes to compose themselves before going outside,” Fraser said. “I guess that’s not what they were planning to do when they asked for that few minutes.”
Plecas’ assistant, Alan Mullen, was on the scene until the five were arrested for mischief and carried away to waiting police vans. Mullen noted that the raucous crowd outside held police at bay and then delayed their exit until after 1 a.m., leaving the rest of Victoria with few police resources for the evening.
The occupiers boasted on social media after they were released from custody in the early hours of Thursday morning, banned from re-entering the legislature grounds as charges were prepared for Crown counsel consideration.
Between the hours of 4:30-6am, all 5 Indigenous youth were released from police custody. They have been banned from the BC Legislative Precinct. This colonial government cannot handle the truths that Indigenous youth bring to the doorstep.#WetsuwetenSolidarity pic.twitter.com/Lq8oWuYqsp
— Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en (@IY4wetsuweten) March 5, 2020
“This colonial government cannot handle the truths that Indigenous youth bring to the doorstep,” said a Twitter post with a posed picture of four of the five arrested.
Premier John Horgan has at times been visibly upset about “the mob outside,” as he termed the crowd Thursday morning, and the siege of the legislature that tried to stop Lt. Governor Janet Austin from delivering the Speech from the Throne to launch the government’s spring legislative session.
Fraser said he used the meeting to describe the NDP government’s efforts at Indigenous reconciliation, which include being the first North American jurisdiction to enact a law to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Fraser described the efforts of he and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to reach an agreement with a group of dissident hereditary chief over the pipeline, which is approved by elected councils in all five Wet’suwet’en communities and 15 others along the pipeline route.
“The pipeline is permitted,” Horgan said Wednesday. “It’s being built. It’s being built by Indigenous people to a great degree, and the benefits are well known and well established.”
What's happening in the Wet'suwet'en story is the result of a carefully laid media strategy. But why take it from me when you can hear pressure group architect Molly Wickham describing how the press is being played. #bcpoli #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/e39mn9fony
— Stewart Muir (@sjmuir) February 12, 2020
Facts have had little effect on the protesters during the sporadic, month-long occupation of the grounds. In the throne speech cordon, which prevented outside ceremonies but didn’t disrupt the speech itself, students stopped MLAs, staff, interns and reporters from going in and out all day. They screamed “Shame! Shame!” in everyone’s faces, including B.C. Green Party MLAs who had provided the three votes opposed the Coastal GasLink project.
Visitors got similar treatment if they ventured onto the grounds after dark during the past two weeks, when the building was closed to the public and even children taking part in Pink Shirt anti-bullying day ceremonies had to be escorted in the back entrance.
Chad Day, elected president of the Tahltan Central Government in northwest B.C., has had his own resource battles with governments, notably stopping coalbed methane drilling at the headwaters of the Nass, Skeena and Stikine Rivers.
Day described arriving at the legislature and being warned away by legislature guards. He then walked closer to look at the “garbage and dirty clothes,” only to be confronted by a woman and then two masked men who told him to get educated on Indigenous issues.
Day asked which of the clearly divided Wet’suwet’en people he was supposed to support.
“If you’re not standing here with us and part of the resistance, you need to leave,” he was told.
Day replied: “The resistance? Are we in a Star Wars movie right now?”
Day left, noting on his Facebook page that the protesters need a group of “strong female Wet’suwet’en elders that’ll put a verbal whipping on these young people and set them straight.”