Twelve people were arrested early Wednesday during an overnight protest in the lobby of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources building on Blanshard Street.
One of those arrested was Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, a member of the Gitxsan Nation, who said the protest was to support Wet’suwet’en chiefs who don’t want a natural-gas pipeline to run through their territory in northern B.C.
The proposed 670-kilometre pipeline would start near Dawson Creek and extend to Kitimat.
Support for the Wet’suwet’en also sparked a Monday protest that blocked traffic to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal.
Sutherland-Wilson, who was also at the ferry protest, said just over 20 people took part in the Energy Ministry action, with the first protesters arriving at the building’s lobby about 11 a.m. Tuesday.
“We were all a bunch of different Indigenous youth that basically went to occupy the space in order to once again convey the message of the hereditary chiefs, what they were requesting, which was the dialogue to take place leader-to-leader, face-to-face,” said Sutherland-Wilson, who was one of the oldest of the protesters at 26.
The group remained in the lobby for most of the night, he said. “It was relatively peaceful — we had a lot of supporters that came and kind of occupied the lobby and made a bit of a buffer zone.”
A few Victoria police officers were there for most of the night, Sutherland-Wilson said, followed by a larger presence after many of the supporters started to leave about 3:30 a.m. “It became pretty obvious that they were preparing to make arrests.”
About 40 people gathered outside to oppose the arrests, he said.
Police said officers had to carry the arrested protesters, all of whom were aged 19 or over, to waiting vehicles, and were surrounded and pushed by those outside.
One of the protesters from outside was taken into custody.
Police said they had worked with members of the group inside and provincial representatives to seek a peaceful resolution. They said they facilitated the protesters’ access to medicine, food and water, and helped parents who arrived to pick up young protesters.
Efforts to resolve the protest went on for more than 15 hours before police were asked by the province to remove those taking part. The arrests were made under the Trespass Act.
Police said the arrests took place over a four-hour period and a minimum amount of force was used.
No charges have been sworn and no one was injured. Everyone was released by 8:15 a.m.
Tara Ehrcke, who observed the protest as a member of Climate Justice Victoria, said the organization helped with supplies for the protesters, although she had trouble getting food through.
Climate Justice wanted to support both Indigenous rights and the environment, she said.
“We understand that we need to have a program that deals with our climate in a way that also deals with inequality and racism and oppression.”
Ehrcke, who also serves as climate-justice chairwoman for the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, said contact with the minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources could have resolved the situation.
Complicating the situation was the fact that the minister changed in a Wednesday cabinet shuffle. Michelle Mungall was replaced by Bruce Ralston.