[UPDATED] The Pat Bay Highway, between Island View Road and Mount Newton Cross Road, will be closed to traffic in both directions Wednesday morning, leaving vehicles idling during an Idle No More protest.
The blockade, organized by Saanich Peninsula First Nations to bring attention to treaty and environmental issues, will start about 11 a.m. with a march from the Tsawout First Nation band office on Tetayut Road to Mount Newton Cross Road and the highway.
“At that time both sides of the highway will close down. For the safety of everyone, it’s in their best interest that we close down the whole highway,” said Central Saanich Police Cpl. Pat Bryant.
The blockade is likely to last about half-an-hour, but, depending on the number of demonstrators, it could take another half hour to clear the highway, Bryant said.
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Anyone heading for a ferry or the airport Wednesday morning should leave early or plan an alternative to the Pat Bay Highway.
Idle No More protesters are planning to block both sides of the highway at Mount Newton Cross Road shortly after 11 a.m., and organizers are uncertain how long the blockade will last.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to be blocked for. People will determine that at the time,” said Tsawout elder Eric Pelkey, one of the organizers.
“We need to get our point across and, if we know people are listening, we will move,” he said.
Murray Sampson, a member of Tsartlip First Nation and Idle No More organizer, said efforts will focus on the highway and there are no plans to block West Saanich Road, which provides an alternative route to the ferry terminal and airport.
The blockade is unlikely to last longer than a bad ferry lineup, Sampson said. “It’s disruptive, but our lives have been disrupted for over 150 years now,” he said.
“People just want to have their voices heard. We just want to live our lives and the Canadian government only allows us to exist,” said Sampson, adding that Idle No More objectives, such as protection of the environment, apply equally to First Nations and non-aboriginal Canadians.
“It’s about peace, about working together. It’s not just about our rights being deteriorated.”
Although the protest is being organized from the Tsawout First Nation, it is expected that Idle No More supporters from across southern Vancouver Island will attend. “It seems like support has been pouring in from around the Saanich Nation and around the area,” Pelkey said.
Saanich Peninsula concerns centre around lack of recognition for the Douglas Treaties, said Pelkey, Tsawout senior treaty officer. “We have been to court numerous times and had the treaty ratified in B.C. Supreme Court, but the government still fails to recognize, honour and implement the treaty,” he said.
Sidney/North Saanich RCMP Sgt. Wayne Conley said police will meet with organizers today. “We are hoping to find out a little bit more about their plans.”
It is likely RCMP, who are responsible for First Nations policing, will assist Central Saanich police, he said.
Conley, who is hoping the protest will be more about information and visibility than a blockade, said blocking both sides of the highway would mean traffic would have to be rerouted. “But it’s all speculation until we know what they are doing,” he said.
Volunteers are being asked to help with traffic control, Pelkey said. “And, if the RCMP want to give us a hand, that would be great.”
Terry Stewart, spokesman for Victoria International Airport, said staff will keep an eye on the situation and, if it looks as if there are significant delays, information will be posted on the airport’s webpage, Facebook and Twitter.
Other Idle No More events planned for Victoria include a teach-in and public forum at the University of Victoria First People’s House at 7 p.m. Wednesday, a gathering at Mayfair Mall at noon Saturday and a march from Centennial Square to the Legislature January 26.
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