Lieutenant-governor reads throne speech as protesters gather outside B.C. legislature

The traditional prorogation of the last session was delayed at the legislature today but the opening of the spring session went ahead despite protesters blocking the entrances to the building.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin arrived at the legislature about 12:30 p.m. and delivered the throne speech just after 2 p.m.

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All outdoor ceremonial aspects of the speech from the throne, including the rolling out of the red carpet, were cancelled as a group of Indigenous youth, who have blocked the entrance to the legislature building for more than five days, stage another rally in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their opposition to Coastal GasLink’s pipeline project in northern B.C.

The group was blocking all entrances and chanting “people over profit,” hours before the lieutenant-governor was expected to arrive to open a new session of the legislative assembly.

Saul Brown, a Wet'suwet'en supporter, told the crowd that demonstrators were prepared to be arrested.

“This is a day of reckoning” with Canada’s history of colonialism, he said. “We must hold our elected officials accountable... let’s do better as a nation.”

Premier John Horgan cancelled a planned afternoon media availability to discuss the throne speech, but Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said that work at the legislature will continue despite the protests.

“They’re trying to get their point across and part of that is, obviously, to disrupt the proceedings … but I can tell you that we will and are continuing the day’s work," said Farnworth.

“It’s not the first time a protest has happened and I know it won’t be the last time.”

The NDP had a regular caucus meeting, but the traditional perfunctory prorogation of the previous sitting, which involves the lieutenant-governor nodding assent, was cancelled.

Farnworth said some staff were not able to get into the building. However, the majority of both caucuses was inside.

“It’s certainly our intention for the session speech to be read,” he said.

Protestors chanted “shame” as they parted to allow MLAs to enter the building. MLAs declined to comment while they waited for security to give them the go ahead to enter the building.

MLA Lana Popham, minister of agriculture, was turned away after trying to enter the building as protesters refused to move. The protestors also denied entrance to a reporter who tried to get inside.

BC NDP MLAs Jennifer Rice, North Coast, Janet Routledge, Burnaby North, were also turned away by protesters at the side doors.

Protesters were also at the Helijet terminal this morning as MLAs arrived, but were not blocking the entrances and exits, according to Victoria police.

Coastal GasLink’s 670-kilometre pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat has been approved by the federal and provincial governments, as well as all 20 elected Indigenous councils along the route, including the Wet’suwet’en.

Today's protesters reject this and say the hereditary chiefs who oppose it must be heard and are also protesting the RCMP enforcement of an injunction on a road leading to the site.

Protests have escalated from a blockade at B.C. Ferries last month to a blockade on both the Bay Street (Point Ellice) and Johnson Street bridges on Monday afternoon.

Organizers say they want to show the government they have the power to shut the country down. “It will be far costlier for you to force this project through than to revoke the permits from Coastal GasLink,” said Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, addressing Premier John Horgan.

On Monday evening, hundreds of protesters shut both the Johnson Street Bridge and the Bay Street bridge to vehicle traffic, cutting off major routes to downtown Victoria.

A5-02112020-bridge2.jpg
Hundreds of protesters shut both the Johnson Street and Bay Street bridges to vehicle traffic Monday evening. - ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Similar demonstrations nationwide have targeted bridges, ports, banks and busy intersections.

Sutherland-Wilson said demonstrators are demanding the immediate removal of RCMP officers and Coastal GasLink employees from Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. The next step is fair, nation-to-nation consultation between the government and hereditary chiefs, he said.

“It won’t be easy. The discussions will take time to address past injustices,” Sutherland-Wilson said.

The RCMP began enforcing a court injunction last week against protesters camped near a pipeline work site in Houston. Mounties said 14 people were arrested and expected to appear in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday.

On Thursday, a group of 20 to 30 Indigenous youth gathered at the entrance to the B.C. legislature at noon and have stayed put, while a small settlement of tents filled with sleeping bags, sleeping mats, warm clothing and food has grown at the foot of the stairs.

Supporters gathered at the legislature for rallies on Friday, Saturday and Monday and marched through downtown streets, occupying a bank on Friday and the intersection of Fort and Douglas streets on Saturday.

After the intersection occupation, hundreds sat down on the Johnson Street Bridge for four hours, blocking traffic in both directions.

On Monday, protesters closed Highway 19 near the Comox Valley Parkway and said they’re not going anywhere until the RCMP leaves Wet’suwet’en territory.

“What we’re asking is [that] Premier John Horgan order the RCMP to stand down immediately and exit the land they’re trespassing, and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to enter into a nation-to-nation engagement with hereditary chiefs who have jurisdiction in Wet’suwet’en territory,” said Deraek Menard, speaking for the group.

On the mainland, protesters began disruptions at ports in Vancouver and nearby Delta on Friday. The ports obtained court injunctions and arrests were made Monday morning.

Demonstrators regrouped and impeded a major rail thoroughfare that feeds into the port.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With files from Cindy E. Harnett and The Canadian Press

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