POLITICS
02/11/2020 16:21 EST | Updated 02/11/2020 17:17 EST

Anti-Coastal GasLink Protesters Block Entrances To B.C. Legislature

Activists backing Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are making their voices heard across Canada.

VICTORIA — Hundreds of protesters blocked the entrances to the British Columbia legislature on Tuesday as demonstrations in support of Indigenous hereditary chiefs who oppose a pipeline project continued to flare across the country.

Protesters, who have been camping outside the legislature since Friday, hollered “Shame” as politicians tried to enter the building with help from security and others chanted “Shut down Canada” and “Stand up, fight back.”

Demonstrations have sprung up across Canada since the RCMP began enforcing a court injunction last week against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who have been blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northwestern B.C.

Chad Hipolito/CP
Protesters in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs camp out on the steps of legislature before the speech from the throne in Victoria, B.C., on Feb. 11, 2020.

The RCMP concluded major operations to enforce the injunction on Monday after arresting 21 people.

Premier John Horgan’s New Democrat government was set to deliver its throne speech later Tuesday but the demonstration forced officials to cancel some of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event.

An official in the Speaker’s office said members of the public attending the speech must have tickets and will be required to enter the building through a side door. A traditional military salute and honour guard that typically greets the lieutenant governor’s arrival was also cancelled.

In Ottawa, Indigenous youth and supporters who began a sit-in just blocks from Parliament Hill on Monday said they’ve given the federal justice minister 24 hours to respond to their demands or they’ll consider reconciliation dead.

Sophia Sidarous says while they spoke to David Lametti by phone to make their case that the federal government must intervene in the ongoing B.C. protests, the minister’s assurances that he’d bring the matter up with the Liberal cabinet wasn’t good enough.

“We have the right to believe, and all Canadians have the right to believe, that the justice minister has obligations to justice. It’s pretty simple, right?” she asked. “There are injustices happening in Wet’suwet’en and we expect them to be addressed by the federal government.”

The group said they’ll end their occupation by Wednesday if Lametti doesn’t act.

But Gabrielle Fayant, another protester, said if they leave, that doesn’t mean they are giving up.

“There will be more mobilization in 24 hours.”

Demonstrators also gathered outside a Helijet port in Victoria and shut down commuter trains for a second day on a train line near Montreal.

The 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline is part of the massive $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project in northern B.C.

Chad Hipolito/CP
Protesters in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs block the entrance to the library at legislature before the throne speech in Victoria, B.C., on Feb. 11, 2020.

All 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including the Wet’suwet’en council, have signed benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink. However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say the council established by the Indian Act only has authority over reserve lands.

The hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area because they have never signed a treaty ceding their traditional territories.

Horgan has said the pipeline is of vital economic and social importance to northern B.C. He said the courts have decided the pipeline can proceed and the rule of law must prevail.

With files from Stephanie Levitz in Ottawa and Dirk Meissner in Victoria.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2020.