Victoria police report at least 4 assaults at legislature protest as politicians trade barbs

Click to play video: 'Victoria city counciller questioned for actions at legislature protest' Victoria city counciller questioned for actions at legislature protest
The actions of one Victoria city councilor during and after the legislature protest have drawn the attention of the city's mayor and police force. Brad MacLeod reports – Feb 12, 2020

Victoria police say they have received four reports of assault at Tuesday’s protests that disrupted events at the B.C. legislature, and are appealing for more witnesses to come forward.

The update to the investigation came hours after a Victoria city councillor who attended the protests called the assault allegations “hogwash” and accused police of spreading misinformation to discredit the protesters, many of whom were Indigenous youth.

Tuesday’s demonstration was the culmination of days of protests outside the legislature in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who are protesting the building the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their unceded ancestral territory in northern B.C.

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READ MORE: Encampment at B.C. legislature ends following day of protest

According to Victoria police, three of the people alleging assault at the legislature received non-life threatening injuries, while the fourth alleges his equipment was damaged but was not injured himself.

Police had said Tuesday night they were investigating reports that people, including legislature staff attempting to enter the building for the scheduled speech from the throne, were assaulted and injured.

Click to play video: 'Protesters continue to block B.C. Legislature ahead of Throne Speech' Protesters continue to block B.C. Legislature ahead of Throne Speech
Protesters continue to block B.C. Legislature ahead of Throne Speech – Feb 11, 2020

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, who made the accusatory comments against police Wednesday morning, pointed to police actions that may have led to those injuries when asked for comment by Global News.

A video posted to social media and shared by Isitt shows police officers attempting to remove a man blocking the entrance to a woman, only for the man and one officer to tumble down the legislature steps.

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The woman, who appears to be uninjured, then makes her way inside as two officers console the protester.

Isitt said on social media that he did not witness any protesters assaulting anyone during the day’s protests, reminding police their job was to “ensure public safety, not spread fake news.”

In response, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said Isitt’s comments were “off base and disrespectful,” adding he was proud of the work of his officers.

Isitt said he stood by his comments, and accused Victoria police of a “growing problem” of “mission creep” against “peaceful demonstrators, city councillors and others advocating for change.”

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In a Medium post Wednesday, the councillor said the “corporate media is frantically spinning the non-violent blockade of the legislature as some kind of ‘violent protest.'”

“We should all refuse to be distracted by these familiar techniques, and instead join the mass movement — standing with thousands of compassionate, principled and courageous people to demand action for decolonization and climate leadership now — driving the process of historical change today,” Isitt wrote.

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

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Premier John Horgan was blunt when asked about Isitt’s criticisms of Victoria police and their actions.

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“My thoughts on that individual are not printable,” Horgan said.

“I will say I spoke with Mayor [Lisa] Helps today and assured her that I do not view the city council in Victoria as a mirror image of Mr. Isitt.

“He will carry on living his life the way he does and will have to reckon with that as time goes by.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. Legislature blocked by protesters, MLA’s being confronted at entrances' B.C. Legislature blocked by protesters, MLA’s being confronted at entrances
B.C. Legislature blocked by protesters, MLA’s being confronted at entrances – Feb 11, 2020

Isitt said he has no comment on what Horgan said.

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In a statement Tuesday, Helps said she hopes the “behaviour of individual councillors does not impact the province’s relationship with council as a whole or the city as a whole.”

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

Victoria police were present during the protests on Tuesday and did not make any arrests. The legislature did not seek an injunction to remove the encampment or the protesters.

The protests led to the delay of the traditional proceedings leading up to the speech from the throne, and forced Lt-Gov. Janet Austin to enter the building through a secret door. The speech itself went ahead as the protest continued outside.

Horgan released a statement later that day after cancelling a press conference, saying British Columbians have the right to peaceful protest and the government supports people in their legal right to exercise their democratic rights.

Click to play video: 'Demonstrators expected to disrupt Throne Speech' Demonstrators expected to disrupt Throne Speech
Demonstrators expected to disrupt Throne Speech – Feb 11, 2020

Indigenous youth descended on the government buildings on Thursday, hours after RCMP began arresting members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation near a key Coastal GasLink worksite near Houston, B.C.

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RCMP spent five days enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction calling for the removal of the pipeline opponents from the area.

The days-long encampment on the legislature steps was was one of dozens of demonstrations that have sprung up across B.C. and Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their battle with the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The pipeline company has signed agreements with 20 elected Indigenous councils along the route, but hereditary chiefs say those councils only have authority over matters on First Nations reserves, while they retain authority over land that was never settled with a treaty.

— With files from Richard Zussman and the Canadian Press

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