Activists planning to block dozens of B.C. government offices Friday
VANCOUVER -- After days of demonstrations in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, activists are preparing for what they call a "shutdown of the B.C. government" on Friday.
A planning document shared on social media suggests more than 350 people have already signed up to gather at dozens of different ministry offices in Victoria, including the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Health.
"We call on settlers to help take responsibility for the colonial institutions causing violence against Wet'suwet'en land and people by picketing B.C. government buildings," reads a Facebook invitation to the demonstration.
Earlier this week, an email was sent out to all B.C. government employees alerting them about the pending protests and ensuring them the province will be "prepared for any eventuality."
"It is important to note that we know very little about what is real and what is not real about the group's plans," reads the email, which was sent by Don Wright, deputy minister to the premier.
"I want you all to know that the emotional and physical safety of public servants was our top priority as we prepared our plan on how to respond to this. We will not ask public servants to put themselves into any situation where they do not feel safe."
The government also said it is planning to maintain "as much service to the public as is possible" on Friday. Activities at the B.C. legislature that were planned for Family Day on Monday have been cancelled, however.
Demonstrations in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have taken place across B.C. and Canada since last week, when the RCMP moved in to dismantle a blockade against the $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline that was set up on Wet'suwet'en territory. Authorities have since arrested more than 20 people from the area.
On Tuesday, activists blocked the entrance to the B.C. legislature, forcing the government to cancel the ceremonial throne speech procession.
Premier John Horgan addressed the protest the next day, suggesting the participants involved had gone too far and describing the demonstration as "clearly a shift from tradition protest to something quite different."
"Yesterday was a day when people were denied access to their workplace, not because of their political views but because they were seen as symbols of government. That's unacceptable," Horgan said.
The premier dismissed calls for a more aggressive approach from law enforcement, however.
"I don't want to live in a society where politicians direct police to take action against other citizens without appropriate reason for doing so – that's why we have courts, that's why injunctions are sought," he said.
While the Coastal GasLink project has the support of 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, five Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have not consented to the project and claim authority over 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory that the project would cross.
The conflict has highlighted a larger debate on the amount of power hereditary chiefs should hold under Canadian law. While the Indian Act established band councils, hereditary chiefs are part of a traditional form of Indigenous government and Canadian courts have struggled with how to recognize their leadership.
With files from The Canadian Press