A group of protesters produced decidedly mixed reactions Monday, after blocking the busy Swartz Bay ferry terminal on Vancouver Island in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting the contentious Coastal GasLink pipeline.
“The 7 a.m. sailing to Tsawwassen from Swartz Bay left 70 minutes behind schedule, while the 9 a.m. sailing was cancelled,” the Times Colonist reports. “Other sailings to and from the Gulf Islands were delayed. The delays created a domino effect of delayed departures throughout the morning.”
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Protesters lay across the road and blocked vessels with kayaks, saying they had delayed the sailings “to demand respect for Wet’suwet’en sovereignty and oppose the threat of a violent RCMP invasion,” the local paper states.
Sidney-North Saanich RCMP were on the scene, but spokesperson Cpl. Chris Manseau said they couldn’t remove the blockaders. “Everybody has the right to protest,” he said. “It’s a very fine line. Obviously this is a very contentious issue.”
The action produced a range of responses from the province’s environmentally-oriented politicians. MLA and former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who opposes Coastal GasLink and wants no new liquefied natural gas (LNG) or other fossil infrastructure in the province, still took issue with blocking ferries that provide an essential service to Gulf Islanders.
“There are people who will be put at risk because of such actions,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to bring people with you, and sadly, I think what you’re going to do is turn people off against the importance of actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Interim Green leader Adam Olsen acknowledged the disruption, but suggested viewing the blockade through the lens of Martin Luther King Day, the annual holiday Americans were celebrating on the day of the protest.
“It’s important we don’t forget that some of the really important advances we’ve made in our society are the result of non-violent, peaceful demonstrations,” Olsen said. “When we see these situations evolving to a point where there are demonstrations, where there are protests like this, it’s a failure of the policy of elected officials to actually do the job at the front end.”
By mid-week, Olsen had shifted his position.
“This week I saw my riding grapple with mixed emotions to the protesters who blocked the Swartz Bay ferry terminal,” he wrote in the Oak Bay News, a community newspaper in Victoria.
“While I must defend the right for people to peacefully demonstrate, it is also important to publicly encourage people to use tactics that advance the interests that they are demonstrating for, tactics that nurture relationships not deepen divisions,” he added. “Not all peaceful tactics help build constituencies of support, and unfortunately shutting down a major ferry terminal is not an action that builds good will, even though it may be peaceful and non-violent.”
The Times Colonist notes that Premier John Horgan supports Coastal GasLink as well as the province’s adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), contending his government’s adoption of UNDRIP is “forward-looking” and doesn’t apply to fossil projects already under development. Kolin Sutherland-Wilson of the Gitxsan Nation, a spokesperson for the Swartz Bay protesters, countered that the province is actually moving backwards.
“If Indigenous governments are going to be criminalized on their own unceded lands, that’s not reconciliation,” he said. “We have to get out and do what we can.”
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