Victoria police are warning of potential traffic delays and other disruptions today, after protesters announced plans to shut down all provincial government offices as a show of solidarity with opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline being built across traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northern B.C.
A social-media post says the goal of the protest, planned for between 8 a.m. and noon, is to shut down as many ministries as possible. It calls on “settlers” and union members to “take responsibility for the colonial institutions causing violence against Wet’suwet’en people.”
The Ministry of Finance said in a statement that it is aware of the plans, but the government will not be publicizing its security measures.
“The public service has been preparing to ensure continuity of service for people and security for staff,” the ministry said. “The physical and emotional safety of public servants is a top priority.
“Every employee in B.C., regardless of where they work, should feel safe and welcome coming to work.”
The ministry said that while people have a right to free speech and to protest, it’s important that public-service employees — who deliver services on which British Columbians depend — are not subject to verbal, physical or emotional abuse.
“We will not ask public servants to put themselves into any situation where they do not feel safe.”
Some staffers complained of physical and verbal abuse when hundreds of people surrounded the legislature on Tuesday, preventing access to the building and forcing the cancellation of ceremonial events leading up to the reading of the government’s throne speech.
That demonstration and other protests across Canada are in response to RCMP enforcement of a court injunction last week against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been blocking construction of the pipeline.
Indigenous youth occupied a B.C. government Energy and Mines Ministry office in late January in a protest that ended with the arrests of 13 people by Victoria police.
The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union issued a statement saying that it is not affiliated with the organizers and the union is not participating in today’s planned protests.
“The BCGEU’s top priority [Friday], as always, is our members who work every day to provide vital public services to British Columbians.
“We are working with our members and their employer — the government — to make sure everyone is safe and secure, no matter what happens with the protests.”
Victoria police spokesman Bowen Osoko said officers will be deployed in anticipation of the protesters’ movements, noting that in the past, planned blockades of specific buildings or locations have moved to intersections, businesses and bridges.
Osoko said the main goal is to keep the public safe. “We’re always balancing that right to safe, peaceful, legal protest with public safety.”
He said police understand the frustrations of people needing to get to work or other obligations when access is blocked.
Police said they will keep people informed of protest activity via Twitter at @vicpdcanada.
Nikki Sanchez, who has participated in previous local protests with Indigenous youth, said another group has taken charge for today.
“A solidarity organization has planned an action,” she said. “This is not led by the Indigenous youth. This is something that’s being carried out by solidarity allies — so, non-Indigenous people who really feel strongly that the government is enacting continued cultural genocide of people on their own lands and territories.”
Sanchez will not be involved, since she is in Vancouver to take part in the annual Women’s Memorial March. She said she is “very heartened and full of gratitude” for today’s planned action in support of the Wet’suwet’en in Victoria.
— With files from Cindy E. Harnett and The Canadian Pressi