Traffic ground to a standstill for about one hour this morning as more than 300 Idle No More protesters, many beating drums and waving placards, streamed on to the Pat Bay Highway.
About 2,000 vehicles were diverted and two dozen caught in the middle of the blockade, but demonstrators kept to their timeframe and, although Central Saanich police fielded numerous calls from upset drivers, there were no serious confrontations.
“We understand it’s disruptive to people and we certainly weren’t supporting this as a police service, but we have a higher responsibility to keep people safe,” said deputy police chief Les Sylven.
Some callers demanded to know what action police would take if they parked their vehicle in the middle of the highway, he said.
“It was an inconvenience, but, at the same time it was peaceful and the main goal was to to make sure no one got hurt,” he said.
Organizers, many from Tsawout and Tsartlip First Nations, did not have permits or authorization, but volunteers did a good job of marshalling demonstrators and stopping traffic that had not already been caught by detours at Island View Road and Amity Road, police said.
“Obviously some thought was put into this,” Sylven said.
The blockade aimed to bring attention to lack of government recognition of the Douglas Treaties, environmental problems and the Harper government’s omnibus bills that opponents say will undermine environmental protections for all Canadians.
The choice of the Pat Bay Highway for the Idle No More blockade was deliberate.
“We are shutting down this highway because this highway runs through our land. Government pushed it through without proper consultation or compensation for our people,” said Tsawout elder and treaty officer Eric Pelkey, one of the Idle No More organizers.
Organizer Murray Sampson, dressed in full regalia, said everyone must stand together to oppose a system that rejects the constitutional rights of First Nations.
“These children deserve to see a life,” he said, looking around at the crowd which included moms pushing children in strollers and teenagers.
About two thirds of the demonstrators were First Nations and one-third non-aboriginal, some carrying placards saying “Support Our Aboriginal Neighbours.”
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