At least one person was arrested as pipeline opponents and angry citizens met in a chaotic scene on a Vancouver Island highway, Monday.
Demonstrators opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline erected barriers at Exit 117 of Highway 19 near Courtenay in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs around 12:30 a.m.
But the group was met by another group of residents, several wearing masks, who repeatedly pulled the barricades down as police attempted to keep the groups apart.
At one point, someone drove a pickup truck through plywood barriers blocking the road.
Police eventually arrested one of the masked residents for obstruction after he attempted to pull down a barricade that anti-pipeline protesters had erected.
“He’s removing garbage!” yelled one of the man’s supporters as he tried to pull blockade materials from the highway off-ramp.
“My sacred items are not garbage, my sacred items are special,” one of the protesters yelled back.
Police have yet to comment on the blockade, but an officer at the scene told the group of residents RCMP couldn’t clear the protesters’ blockade without direction from their supervisors.
“We pay taxes to use these highways, that’s our right,” one woman responded to police.
“If we came out and blocked the highway you’d arrest us,” added another member of the group. “They’re going to be allowed to just start blocking everything up right across this friggin’ country?”
Deraek Menard, one of the anti-pipeline protesters, told Global News the blockade was meant to send a message of support to Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who were facing possible arrest as the RCMP enforced a B.C. Supreme Court injunction near Houston, B.C.
“They are peaceful land defenders exerting their rights to have their sovereign territory and not be invaded by another nation,” he said.
“And when we see the RCMP using force from our nation to violate their rights like that, it’s pretty clear that people can get upset about this.”
The action appeared to have the opposite effect on at least one motorist who said he generally supported the protesters’ message.
“They should be protesting the company or something, not inconveniencing the public.”