Youth protesting in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation met with Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett Tuesday after storming her Toronto office a day earlier.
Youth advocacy group Climate Justice Toronto posted photos of demonstrators gathering at the office holding up signs and chanting in support of the B.C. First Nation.
Wet’suwet’en is fighting against the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in its territory, but has been served with an injunction. Last week, the RCMP moved in to enforce the injunction and concluded the operation Monday after making 21 arrests.
Protesters rushed inside Bennett’s office Monday, holding up a sign that read, “This office is being occupied in solidarity with #Wetsuwetenstrong. RCMP back down! Indigenous sovereignty now!”
Other signs held up by the protesters read, “No trespassing on Wet’suwet’en land.”
Leila Atri, an organizer with Climate Justice Toronto, told Global News that conversations with Bennett were not satisfactory.
“Really, our principal demand was to get the RCMP off the territory. She consistently did not answer the question,” Atri said. “What we know is that true nation-to-nation talks, true consultations cannot be garnered at the barrel of a gun.”
Following the meeting, the minister’s office told Global News she was not available for an interview, but offered an email statement.
“The right to peaceful protest is a foundation of our rights in Canada. Today, Minister Bennett met with the individuals protesting in her constituency office and heard their concerns,” the statement read.
“During this conversation, the Minister conveyed that the Coastal GasLink project falls under provincial jurisdiction and that no order of government can direct the RCMP. The Minister will continue having important conversations with concerned members of the community about their priorities, including the climate change emergency and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
Atri noted the demands from the group still stood following the meeting with Bennett, and they plan to continue demonstrations.
“We all know it’s up to us as settlers to show up and to not stop,” she said. “We are taking leadership from Wet’suwet’en leaders and land defenders.”
Meanwhile, B.C. Premier John Horgan has said the pipeline is of vital economic and social importance to northern B.C. and will go forward. He said the courts have decided the pipeline can proceed and the rule of law must prevail.
All 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including the Wet’suwet’en council, have signed benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink. However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say the council established by the Indian Act only has authority over reserve lands.
Pamela Palmater, the chair of Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, told Global News that the issue is that construction of the pipeline would infringe on Indigenous sovereignty.
“Whether you’re pro or against pipelines, this is an attack on native sovereignty and rights, and it’s against the law,” she said.
While the federal government has said the issue falls under provincial jurisdiction, Palmater said it affects Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge for reconciliation.
She urged Horgan and Trudeau to engage in discussions on the issue.
“Solidarity actions are ramping up across the country. It’s not just about the Wet’suwet’en anymore,” she said, noting that the talks need to result in “real, substantive change.”
Global News reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office for comment, but did not hear back by publication.
Solidarity protests are taking place in several other parts of the country, and have also resulted in injunctions and arrests.
Hundreds of protesters blocked the entrances to the B.C. legislature on Tuesday.
Via Rail service between Montreal and Toronto and between Ottawa and Toronto was once again cancelled on Tuesday, marking the sixth consecutive day of service disruption since protesters began blocking a rail line near Belleville, Ont.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Tuesday that Ottawa is “concerned” about protesters illegally blocking rail lines, but added that it is up to provincial governments to enforce injunctions.
Protesters also blocked train traffic in east Vancouver on Monday afternoon. The protest came hours after nearly 60 people were arrested for obstructing busy ports in the city and in nearby Delta.
— With files from The Canadian Press