UPDATED: Pat Bay Highway blockade ends three hours later

About 80 people from four major Peninsula First Nations blocking major highway

An injunction was ordered for the Pat Bay Highway Wednesday afternoon where about 100 people set up a blockade in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The group shut down the major artery at Mount Newton Cross Road while police rerouted traffic.

The demonstration, which included members from all four Peninsula First Nations – Pauquachin, Tsawout, Tsartlip and Tseycum – is among many cropping up across Canada and shutting down railways and major intersections in an act of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en clan chiefs, who claim authority over the northern nation’s expansive territory.

The organizers of the highway blockade aimed to raise awareness about several issues, including the effects of natural resource developments on the natural environment, Indigenous land rights, and reconciliation between First Nations and non-First Nations in Canada.

“We’re not here to inconvenience people, we’re here to get a message across to our governments and to close-minded people alike,” said Brian Sampson of Tsartlip First Nation. “We’re just here to support the Wet’suwet’en nation and let them know they’re not standing alone.”

Sampson said the roadblock was announced ahead of time to avoid further hostility.

“I mean you look at, across Canada … there’s people driving through these barricades,” he said.

A spokesperson for the protesters told Const. Matt Ball of Central Saanich Police they planned to be on site until 5 p.m. Ball said police started to reroute traffic when it became apparent that the protest would start. “It helps reduce conflicts between protesters and motorists,” he said.

RELATED: Central Saanich Police prepared for afternoon shut-down of Highway 17

The injunction, ordered by the B.C. Attorney General, the Province of B.C. and the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority, said anyone impeding the movement of vehicles on Highway 17 would be subject to arrest by police. There were no reports of any arrests.

Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Gulf Islands, said the number of demonstrations point to an emerging Canadian crisis.

“It won’t end by trying to ignore it into non-existence,” he said, adding that the relationship between the Crown and Canada’s Indigenous people is in “turmoil.”

“From my perspective everybody needs to take a step back and needs to create a different kind of dialogue.”

Olsen said the relationship between First Nations and non-First Nations appears to go through this kind of conflict every decade or so, and calls this crisis predictable “in light of failure by governments to ignore past appeals.”

RELATED: Wet’suwet’en supporters occupying legislature in Victoria set press conference

The choice by protesters to cut off traffic along Highway 17 appeared strategic given its regional significance.

A 2014 study by Urban Systems prepared for the ministry describes the highway as the “gateway to the Capital Region on Vancouver Island, accommodating the movement of people, goods and services externally from the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay and the Victoria International Airport to the Victoria region and other areas of the Island.”

According to the report, daily traffic volumes range anywhere from almost 15,000 vehicles per day to over 60,000 vehicles per day from the north to south segments of the corridor.

In short, little, if anything moves if something interrupts Highway 17.

RELATED: UPDATED: Demonstrators plan to shut down Pat Bay Highway Wednesday afternoon

Hours before the blockade was set up, Sgt. Paul Brailey of Central Saanich Police said “dozens” of police officers from multiple jurisdictions, including local RCMP, would be in action to deal with crowd management and traffic.

Brailey urged travellers to leave for their Peninsula destinations early or avoid the area entirely.

While Brailey acknowledged the right of protesters to say their piece, he also questioned its efficacy. If protesters wanted to get the public’s attention, they would protest along the side of the highway, not block it, he said.

“The protesters are trying to make a point and I am not so sure that if they block highways and inconvenience thousands and thousands and thousands of people, that they are going to gain traction with their points within [Greater Victoria] and all of B.C.,” he said.

The blockade ended around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and unfolded without any major incidents, except towards the end when a man interrupted proceedings.

“We need law and order,” he said. Protesters then confronted the man, with police quickly separating the two sides.


Like us on Facebook and follow @wolfgang_depner

wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

A group occupying the Pat Bay Highway in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs has shut down the major Island artery at Mount Newton Cross Road. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Just Posted

West Shore woman’s dog found in Colwood more than two weeks after going missing

Isla went missing on March 10 and was found 17 days later

Saanich police ticket two speeders before 9 a.m., Saturday

Officers still actively enforcing road safety amid COVID-19 pandemic

PHOTOS: Painted fence in Langford shows thanks for essential workers amid COVID-19

Community members finding unique ways to show their appreciation

Duncan man asks community to donate RVs to essential workers in need of quarantine

Ryan Oakley creates a Facebook group to help coordinate the effort

Antibody tests could be the next step in fighting COVID-19, Island doctor says

The blood test could show if a person is recovering or has recovered from the virus

COVID-19: A message from the publisher

We will be making some changes to our print editions during these unprecedented times

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

‘Tremendous’ response from blood donors has supply keeping pace with demand

About 400,000 of Canada’s 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis

Morning world update: Cases surge past 600,000; positive news in Germany

Spain suffers its deadliest day as Germany considers April 20 to possibly loosen restrictions

Most Read