Wet'suwet'en supporters occupy David Eby's office in Vancouver
Published Thursday, February 13, 2020 8:04AM PST Last Updated Thursday, February 13, 2020 6:44PM PST
VANCOUVER -- A group of Wet'suwet'en supporters have occupied the attorney general's Vancouver office, marking the latest action after days of demonstrations blocked traffic, ports and bridges in the city.
Vancouver police arrived at the Kitsilano Community Centre early Thursday morning, hours ahead of a 9 a.m. meeting organized by demonstrators who are showing support for hereditary chiefs and other land defenders opposed to a pipeline project in northern B.C.
Shortly before 9:30 a.m., the group began marching and ended up at David Eby's office on West Broadway.
"The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs are practicing Anuk Nu'at'en (Wet'suwet'en law) in opposition to the colonial Canadian legal system," said Herb Varley, one of the organizers of Vancouver solidarity actions, in a news release.
"We are disrupting business as usual in David Eby's office to highlight his hand in the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples required by the Canadian colonial project."
Organizers have said they plan to stay until they get a meeting with Eby and he meets a set of demands. In a press release, the group said it wants Eby to do the following:
- Revoke all permits associated with LNG Canada and Coastal Gas Link's $40 billion fracked gas projects until the projects meet the standards under Anuk Nu’at’en and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- Intervene in the injunction and enforcement order against the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.
"If you are unable to uphold your responsibility to Anuk Nu'at'en as well as the principles of UNDRIP, we demand that you resign from the executive council immediately," the news release said to Eby.
Eby wouldn't confirm whether he would arrange a meeting with the people occupying his office, but said he has "met with many individuals from many different protest groups" in the past.
"We've had protesters at my office before and obviously my first concern is always for the safety of my staff and the security of the personal information we have of our constituents," said Eby, who is in Victoria.
"People will well know that I fully support the right to protest but where that jeopardizes the safety of my staff or the security of information we have about our constituents as we try to help them that's not OK."
Mackenzie Erlank said she was attending the protest at Eby's office because she believes "Canada is illegally invading a sovereign nation."
"I happen to share the sentiment that I don't think we should be building more pipelines given that we're in a climate emergency but to me the central issue is more that the Wet'suwet'en are a sovereign nation," she told CTV News Vancouver.
"Their wish is that there is not a pipeline built and that has been expressed peacefully by hereditary chiefs and other members of the nation and so I would be here regardless of what their demands are."
Demonstrators also gathered on the University of British Columbia campus and temporarily blocked traffic near Wesbrook Mall and University Boulevard Thursday morning.
Ahead of Thursday's demonstration, city councillor in West Vancouver posted on Twitter that he believed the protesters planned to target Lions Gate Bridge. Coun. Craig Cameron tweeted Wednesday night saying "those with medical or other urgent issues that require crossing may want to consider preparing alternative plans."
West Vancouver police told CTV News by email that they were aware of the 9 a.m. meeting in Vancouver, and were monitoring the situation.
In 2018, Premier John Horgan announced support for a liquefied natural gas plant in Kitimat. The 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline would transport the natural gas for export.
However, the project 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.
Right now, the Coastal GasLink pipeline has support from 20 elected band councils along the route. However, five Wet'suwet'en hereditary clan chiefs are opposed to the project and say they have authority over 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory that the pipeline would cross.
Erlank said she thinks the views of hereditary chiefs should hold more weight.
"I think that the elected chief system, like a lot of the people who are recognized as legitimate chiefs in the eyes of the colonial government, are the legacy of colonialism," she said. "I would love for people to proceed as though the Wet'suwet'en were in fact a sovereign nation because they are and be willing to recognize their sovereignty."
Protests supporting the hereditary chiefs have been underway in Metro Vancouver for several days and have caused significant traffic disruptions.
Protests have been underway in Metro Vancouver for several days and have caused significant traffic disruptions.
Dozens of people blocked access to the Granville Street Bridge on Wednesday, closing the crossing to traffic for hours. Earlier in the week, the protests led to overnight road closures at Broadway and Cambie Street and blockades outside the Port of Vancouver and Deltaport.
With files from The Canadian Press