Protesters acting in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their dispute over a contentious gas pipeline in northern B.C. took to the streets once again on Tuesday.
About 200 gathered at the intersection of Cambie Street and Broadway at about 2 p.m., blocking all traffic on the two thoroughfares.
Police said the event had remained peaceful and that their priority was public safety, but acknowledged the demonstration — which was taking place about three blocks from Vancouver General Hospital — was raising concerns about access for emergency services.
By Tuesday evening police began using motorcycles, which were initially re-routing traffic, to escort ambulances to the hospital.
About 300 protesters continued blocking the intersection of Cambie Street and Broadway by 11:30 p.m. late Tuesday evening.
Demonstrators, who reject the label “protesters” and describe themselves as land and water defenders, carried signs, banged drums and sang the women’s warrior song.
Protesters say they are acting in solidarity with members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline and what they perceive as a violation of Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
“This is about self determination, Indigenous rights, titles and sovereignty,” said Dakota Bear, an Indigenous Idle No More organizer from Saskatchewan.
“The RCMP want them to leave, to where? They want them to go home, they are home. So it’s very confusing when people are calling them protesters when the reality is they’re only defending the land and the waters, and they have the right to do so under Canadian law and Indigenous law.”
Vancouver police say they are monitoring the scene, but have so far acted only in a peacekeeping capacity.
“The VPD prepare for and police hundreds of events, protests, and demonstrations that occur in the city every year,” said VPD Sgt. Aaron Roed in an email.
“Public safety is always our priority when it comes to preparation and police resources for these events including the safety of protesters and our officers.”
TransLink has detoured several bus routes but warns that the protest was causing delays on the 99, 15 and 17 routes of up to 70 minutes.
The protest comes as Indigenous youth and their supporters surrounded the B.C. legislature in a bid to disrupt Tuesday’s speech from the throne.
That demonstration forced the cancellation of the morning legislative session and a press conference by B.C. Premier John Horgan but failed to derail the throne speech.
By late Tuesday evening, protesters were packing up of their own accord, removing coverings and packing up signs, and vacating the legislature’s front steps.
Tuesday’s action is one of dozens across B.C. and the country that have sprung up since the RCMP moved into Wet’suwet’en traditional territory to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction ordering a path be cleared for pipeline construction crews.