12 people arrested after Indigenous demonstrators occupy B.C. minister’s office

Click to play video: 'Indigenous youth say arrests made at Victoria protest'
Indigenous youth say arrests made at Victoria protest
Indigenous youth protesters say a number of arrests were made overnight as they occupy the office of energy minister Michelle Mungall – Jan 22, 2020

Victoria police say 12 adults were arrested, after a group of Indigenous youth protesters occupied the offices of the Ministry of Energy overnight.

Demonstrators descended on the office for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Tuesday afternoon in opposition of the Coastal GasLink project.

Victoria police say the standoff lasted 15 hours, during which “officers facilitated access to medicine, food, and water.”

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The $6.6-billion natural gas pipeline has support of all 20 elected Indigenous councils along its route, but is opposed by hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en who claim authority over traditional lands.

Amateur video from the scene shows Victoria police officers leading or carrying several people to police vans.

Click to play video: 'Fight over northern B.C. pipeline comes to Metro Vancouver'
Fight over northern B.C. pipeline comes to Metro Vancouver

In a video posted to Facebook, the group said it wanted a meeting with Mungall, and demanded that Coastal GasLink and the RCMP withdraw from the Wet’suwet’en’s unceded traditional territory and cease all work without Indigenous consent.

“Despite numerous efforts over 15 hours to resolve the situation without arrests, officers were requested to remove the protesters by the building owner once negotiations failed,” said police in a media release.

“Officers acted under the lawful authority of the Trespass Act to effect these arrests.”

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Police insist that a “minimum of force” was used to remove the protesters, but that numerous protesters had to be carried out from inside the building.

“Additional protesters outside the building made efforts to impede the lawful arrests,” added VicPD.

“Protesters surrounded the officers, who were pushed and shoved while carrying arrestees to the police vehicles. One of these protesters from outside the building was also taken into custody.”

Police say there were no injuries and that no charges have been sworn.

READ MORE: Premier John Horgan says Coastal GasLink project will proceed even with Wet’suwet’en opposition

In a statement, the Ministry of Energy said it respects the right to peaceful protest.

“Our government is committed to working in partnership with First Nations to meaningfully advance reconciliation in B.C.,” reads the statement.

“With regard to the Coastal GasLink project, B.C. conducted extensive consultations with Indigenous Nations and has also signed agreements with the vast majority of Indigenous communities along the route.”

It also pointed to a planned meeting between the Wet’suwet’en and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser on Wednesday.

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Don Tom, vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and a chief with the Victoria-area Tsarlip First Nation said Indigenous youth had been clear that they would fight the pipeline project.

“The youth have committed in previous statements that they planned to disrupt the project at all points,” he said.

He added that he believes Premier John Horgan has so far failed in his commitment to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I think those decisions and comments that, ‘This is the rule of law’ are leading to further demonstrations,” he said. “And that I think in the premier has failed to consider Indigenous law and previous Supreme Court cases and constitutional court cases.”

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