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Protests allowed, but not occupations, says solicitor general

One of the founders of the “freedom convoy” that occupied Ottawa for three weeks has said in a video posted to social media that a convoy of trucks is headed to Victoria.
A protest in front of the B.C. legislature on Saturday against pandemic health measures. An organizer of the three-week Ottawa occupation has said a convoy of protesters is headed for Victoria in order to occupy the capital city. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST March 5, 2022

B.C.’s solicitor general says legal protest is part of a free and democratic society, but occupations are not, as the province monitors a truck convoy headed toward Victoria to protest vaccine and mask mandates.

The Victoria Police Department and province are monitoring the situation, said B.C. Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. As with previous protests, police will respond as required to ensure protests remain peaceful, he said.

“Legal protest is allowed in this country — it is part of a free and democratic society — occupations are not,” said Farnworth.

James Bauder, one of the founders of the “freedom convoy” that occupied Ottawa for three weeks, has said in a video posted to social media that a convoy of trucks is headed to Victoria on Monday, and plans to stay for two to three months.

Bauder said the occupation could include 500 to 1,000 vehicles, and B.C. is being targeted as one of the last jurisdictions to still have vaccine and indoor mask requirements. Fundraising is taking place in Canada and the United States, he said.

Farnworth said Wednesday the province is “monitoring the situation very closely.”

The clerk’s office confirmed the legislative assembly is also monitoring the situation, and is working with its security partners, including Victoria police.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is scheduled to provide an update on pandemic restrictions today, and has strongly suggested the mask and vaccine mandates will come to an end soon.

Jeff Bray, executive direction of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said if the mask mandate is dropped, the protest plan will be moot. In the meantime, the association’s members are taking a wait and see approach. “I think if we start seeing trucks lining up in Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay by the hundreds, we may have a concern.”

Farnworth said B.C. has been clear that the province makes its decisions on health measures on the basis of science and advice from the provincial health officer. “We do not make our decisions based on threats or mob rule.”

On Wednesday, Victoria police issued a statement saying police, including officers with the traffic section and Greater Victoria Integrated Public Safety Unit, will continue to respond to protests in the legislature area as they have been over the past seven weeks. The department noted that while recent weekend protests have caused disruptions and noise, they have not included the occupation of public or private space or serious property damage.

But some B.C. Ferries workers are concerned about the prospect of a convoy heading west. B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union president Eric McNeely said Wednesday he has had members reach out about the convoy. He is hoping for discussions this week with B.C. Ferries officials on what kind of supports might be available for members in anticipation of passengers who don’t want to comply with mask rules in terminals and on vessels.

Passengers must wear masks at B.C. Ferries terminals and on board unless they are eating and drinking. “My understanding is the reason they are going to Victoria is that they don’t like mandates and you could certainly argue that mask mandates fall under that.”

McNeely said there are fewer crew members available to deal with confrontations than there were in the past. In September, B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said that under the Canada Shipping Act, the organization has the right to deny service to those who do not follow the direction of vessel crews.

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- With files from Carla Wilson