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Wet’suwet’en solidarity protesters block entrance to B.C. legislature ahead of throne speech

Click to play video 'Indigenous rights protesters block access to B.C. legislature' Indigenous rights protesters block access to B.C. legislature
WATCH: Protesters are continuing to block access to the B.C. legislature building ahead of a scheduled throne speech by the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia – Feb 11, 2020

Protesters blocked all entrances to the B.C. legislature in an effort to disrupt Tuesday afternoon’s speech from the throne.

Victoria police are appealing for witnesses after getting reports that people were “assaulted and injured” during the protests.

The protesters had asked MLAs to stand with them in opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline as it heads toward Wet’suwet’en territory.

MLAs, journalists and staff approached entrances to the legislature on Tuesday morning and, in many cases, were turned away by demonstrators.

Others were met with resistance and then allowed to move through the crowd and into the building.

The protest also extended to auxiliary buildings around the legislature.

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By midday, about three-quarters of MLAs and B.C. Premier John Horgan were inside the legislature.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin was able to enter the building, and the throne speech took place at 2 p.m. as scheduled.

Horgan, however, was forced to cancel his post-throne speech press conference.

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Horgan said he supports peaceful protest but understands the frustration of people were blocked from the building or have had their travel disrupted by protesters.

Horgan said his government had met directly with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and is available to meet again and pointed to his government’s passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Our work here has not ended — it has just begun.

“Reconciliation is hard work. It does not begin or end with a single decision, event or moment. No single one of us decides what reconciliation can or should look like. It is a shared journey we are on together.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, Victoria police issued a statement in response to the legislature blockade, saying they had made no arrests because officers’ primary duty was to keep the public safe but that were monitoring the system.

“Today has seen Members of the Legislative Assembly, reporters, and staff, blocked from entering the building. People have been pushed and shoved. This is unacceptable,” said VicPD in a statement.

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“Our officers have worked to ensure safe entry and exit to the legislature while balancing the right to peaceful protest. Peaceful protest does not involve pushing and shoving, nor obstructing people from their places of work.”

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The assembly decided on Monday night to cancel the lieutenant-governor’s red carpet arrival and the traditional 15-gun salute ahead of the province’s throne speech, due to concerns over the growing encampment of supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs on the steps of the B.C. legislature.

Click to play video 'Lookahead to B.C.’s Speech from the Throne' Lookahead to B.C.’s Speech from the Throne
Lookahead to B.C.’s Speech from the Throne – Feb 10, 2020

READ MORE: Anti-pipeline demonstrations expected to disrupt speech from the throne

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“The usual afternoon ceremonial events at the front of the parliament buildings, including the inspection of the Guard of Honour by the lieutenant-governor, have been cancelled,” reads a memo sent to all MLAs, ministerial staff, caucus staff and assembly staff from acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd.

Click to play video 'Anti-pipeline activists set up tent city at B.C. Legislature' Anti-pipeline activists set up tent city at B.C. Legislature
Anti-pipeline activists set up tent city at B.C. Legislature – Feb 9, 2020

Dozens of people have been sleeping on the front steps of the provincial legislature since Thursday. The crowds were expected to grow on Tuesday with an event involving Indigenous youth and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“The RCMP are carrying out a violent raid on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory under provincial and federal watch to enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction,” reads a media release for the event.

“Indigenous youth, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and allies including NGOs, municipal, provincial and federal representatives will gather in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation.”

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The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern B.C. have been requesting a face-to-face meeting with Premier John Horgan. They recently met with Minister of Indigenous Relations Scott Fraser, but the talks ended without an agreement.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en — Here’s where solidarity protests are happening across Canada

The memo from Ryan-Lloyd details the legislature’s expectation that the size of the group in front of the legislature will grow. Legislative Assembly Protective Services staff will be positioned at each entrance in order to check all security passes and assist with entry into the parliament buildings.

Ryan-Lloyd also told staff and MLAs that due to a ceremonial fire as part of the encampment, some staff can move office space if needed.

“Air quality issues linger in some ministerial and assembly offices and areas near the front of the parliament buildings, but the overall air quality significantly improved today (Monday),” Ryan-Lloyd writes.

“If air quality concerns arise in some areas, affected staff may work tomorrow in the legislative library reading room.”

READ MORE: Horgan says NDP to highlight ‘what we’ve done, where we’re going’ this month

The throne speech marks the beginning of the legislative session. Horgan is expected to lay out the provincial government’s agenda for the next year.

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The speech is expected to focus on the government’s decision to scrap Medical Services Plan fees, increase child-care spaces and reform the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. Austin is also expected to read out details of what British Columbians should expect from the government over the next year.

“Gas prices are the top of people’s minds,” Horgan said in a pre-speech interview with the Canadian Press.

“Cellphone charges, admittedly a federal problem, but ones we hear about in our offices all the time, car insurance. These are costs that people are always fretting about, and we’re going to be talking about these in the throne speech.”

— With files from Jon Azpiri the Canadian Press