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Editorial: Control protest blockades — or we'll have more of them

These protesters are convinced that their beliefs are so above reproach that they can justify, in their own minds, anything they do
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One of seven Save Old Growth protesters is arrested Monday at Douglas Street and Burnside Road, where the group blocked all southbound traffic for several hours. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST Jan. 10, 2022

Monday’s road blockades in Victoria, Nanaimo and Burnaby will be the first of many, if the organizers behind the blockades can be believed.

The roads were closed, they said, because the provincial government had failed to meet their demand for all logging of old-growth forests to end by Sunday. They also said that the frequency and scale of the blockades will escalate until all old-growth logging is stopped.

Police in all three cities arrested protesters Monday after they refused to leave.

Taking to the streets to protest what is happening in the forests makes little sense at the best of times. It’s even worse when protesters are blocking vehicles carrying people who are not at all involved in decisions about forests.

These protesters are convinced that their beliefs are so above reproach that they can justify, in their own minds, anything they do. They believe their right to protest trumps the rights of everyone else; their right to sit on the pavement is apparently far more important than the rights of many others to get to work, or to school, or to a medical appointment, or to a bathroom in time.

Our rights don’t matter to them.

In November, a protest in Saanich closed the Pat Bay Highway at Sayward Road for two hours. The protesters laughed at the chaos they caused; videos they posted to social media included snide comments about “middle-aged white men” being inconvenienced.

No thought was given to all the problems the protest caused — problems for people who had nothing to do with the stated reasons for the protest. In some cases, the problems were minor, but in other cases the damage done cannot be made right.

The reasons given for a protest are usually not relevant. If not old growth or fossil fuels or mask mandates, the protesters would come up with something else. Protests such as the ones we are seeing are not about changing anything; bullies don’t care about that. They get their rush from their ability to push others around, and their goal is to be arrested.

These protests put the police in a tough spot. The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in the Charter, yet where is the line? It’s easy enough to direct traffic away from a blockade, but what about the people already trapped by it?

If the police move too quickly, they will be accused of harassment; if they try to wait out the protesters, they will be accused of helping them. And this is, to a certain extent, true; the police are protecting protesters from vigilante action by ordinary citizens who have had their rights ripped from them.

But as the police try to negotiate with those breaking the law, the innocents caught by the protests are left to wonder who is on their side, if not the police. And the culprits, the small group of bullies claiming moral superiority over the rest of us, are empowered every time they push the limits of what we will tolerate.

In the bigger picture, do we want the government making quick decisions to appease a handful of people sitting on a street? This time, the next time, the time after that? Every time a new resistance movement comes together, the government is to give in to its demands? That’s a descent into anarchy.

And remember that Victoria police officers are burning out, because there is too much work and not enough people. They have better things to do than babysit a childish publicity stunt.

These selfish protesters do not care about any of this. Again, they believe that their position is above reproach; that their actions might cause harm to others is no concern of theirs.

These protests need to be seen for what they really are: An attempt to destabilize our society at a time when nerves are already frayed and when mental health is suffering.

In the past few weeks, we have lost freedom because of increased COVID restrictions and disastrous weather. There seems to be no end of misery all around us. Yet these protesters have chosen this time to violate our collective rights, and to take what’s left of our freedom from us. The damage they are doing goes far beyond a traffic delay.

The pandemic and the weather are beyond our control, but there are ways to control the blockades.

These protesters are sure to be back, again and again, until they are met with the full force of the law. That means arrests, temporary imprisonment while the offenders are put on trial, and meaningful sanctions.

Nothing less will suffice.