Activists occupy Freeland's office, ferry route in rally against B.C. gas pipeline
TORONTO -- Climate activists in Toronto and Vancouver Island halted traffic and disrupted the office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in hopes of pressuring the government into halting a pipeline project through the Wet'suwet'en First Nation territory.
In Toronto, 19 activists from Climate Justice Toronto occupied Freeland’s constituency office for much of the day Monday with signs reading “No violence against Indigenous people” and “No trespassing on Wet'suwet'en land.”
“Chrystia Freeland did not answer at all,” Dafna Cohen, one of the CJTO organizers, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “We really hope that she got the message clear, but we will continue and continue to be in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en.”
Coastal GasLink has provincial approval for a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline from British Columbia's northeast to the coastline, but the Wet'suwet'en hereditary clan leaders say the company has no right to run a pipeline through their land without consent.
The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils in the pipeline’s path, but the hereditary clan leaders say that under traditional forms of governance, the project needs their approval as well.
The hereditary clan chiefs have been clear that they will never support the project. At the end of 2019, they issued an eviction notice to Coastal GasLink, which led to a second standoff in the area.
The RCMP has since set up an “access control checkpoint” at the 27-kilometre mark of the road to “prevent further escalation of the situation including the placement of hazards along the roadway,” but CJTO said the blockade has prevented medicine and other supplies from reaching Wet'suwet'en First Nation.
“We know, the world knows, that it’s absolutely unacceptable that in 2020 Indigenous land is still being taken at gun point in this supposed era of reconciliation,” said Cricket Cheng, one of the CJTO organizers.
“We, as young people, refuse to allow our government to do this in our name.”
The group hopes Monday’s demonstration pressures Freeland to use her role as deputy prime minister to dismantle the RCMP check point, to tell the RCMP to stand down in order to allow talks between the First Nation and the provincial and federal governments and to begin implementing UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Freeland was at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Winnipeg at the time. One of her spokespeople said in an email that her office respects “the right to peaceful protest.”
“The federal government is working to renew the relationship with Indigenous peoples based on a recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership,” the statement continued.
Meanwhile on Vancouver Island, protesters blocked the Swartz Bay ferry terminal during the morning commute and prevented several ferries from entering and exiting the terminal. The service resumed a few hours later.
“Specifically, we chose this spot because the BC Ferries run on LNG gas and the heart of the issue is that the Coastal Gaslink started development and they’re attempting to put a pipeline without the consent of the rightful decision makers: the Wet’suwet'en hereditary chiefs," Protester Colin Sutherland Wilson told CTV News Vancouver Island.
Cheng said the office occupation in Toronto and the ferry protest in British Columbia are a sign of nationwide support for the Wet'suwet'en people.
“We can see that across the country that people are rising up in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en land defenders,” Cheng said. “They are answering this international call for solidarity.”
Leila Atri, one of the CJTO organizers, said the group is planning another demonstration at an RCMP office in Toronto later this week.
“We will keep showing up in various ways,” she said. “This is not over. We will be acting in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en land defenders for as long as it takes.”
With files from The Canadians Press and CTV Vancouver Island