Blockade reroutes traffic on Pat Bay Highway

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 80 people have set up a blockade in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in opposition of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

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

The demonstration, made up of members from all four major Peninsula First Nations – Pauquachin, Tsawout, Tsartlip and Tseycum – is among many cropping up across B.C. and parts of Canada, with dozens of protests 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 aim 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 Cst. Matt Ball of Central Saanich Police they plan to be on site until 5 p.m. Ball later said that police started to reroute traffic when it became apparent that the protest would start. “It helps reduce conflicts between protesters and motorists,” he said.

The injunction, ordered by the Attorney General of B.C., the province of B.C. and the BC Transportation Financing Authority, said anyone impeding the movement of vehicles on Highway 17 would be subject to arrest by police.

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.”

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

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

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 his, as well other local jurisdictions, including local RCMP, will 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.

Other organizations also prepared themselves for Wednesday’s protest. BC Transit told riders Wednesday morning that the protest could impact schedules.

School District No. 63 earlier Wednesday morning warned parents of delays in school bus service.

“Due to an anticipated protest on the Pat Bay Highway this afternoon, school buses may be delayed in their drop-off times after school. Your understanding is greatly appreciated,” said the District in a tweet.

BC Ferries, meanwhile, issued its warning Tuesday afternoon.

Astrid Chang, manager of corporate communications and business support, for BC Ferries said six sailings are scheduled to depart Swartz Bay this afternoon between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. with two of those arriving in Swartz Bay from Tsawwassen.


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