Tuesday’s demonstration at the B.C. legislature was not the first time a throne speech was impacted by civil unrest.
Earlier this week, demonstrators gathered outside the province’s legislature building ahead of Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin’s speech from the throne to protest in solidarity with hereditary chiefs from Wet’suwet’en Nation who oppose the construction of a Coastal GasLink pipeline running through the First Nation’s territory.
Nearly 27 years ago, protesters furious over a very different environmental issue actually made their way inside the building, damaging property and injuring legislature staff.
It was March 12, 1993. Hundreds of protesters had gathered on the legislature lawn in Victoria, calling on the NDP government not to allow logging in Clayoquot Sound, a Vancouver Island temperate rainforest home to some of Canada’s oldest trees.
The protesters watched and chanted as the traditional ceremonies ahead of the throne speech took place: the inspection of the guard, the firing of cannons and then-premier Mike Harcourt welcoming retiring lieutenant-governor David Lam to read his final speech.
Once the politicians and officials made their way inside, however, the protesters followed, chanting “save Clayoquot Sound” as they forced their way through the doors.
An elderly staff member was knocked down by the sea of demonstrators and was later taken away in a wheelchair with an injured hip.
“It was a sad day,” Harcourt remembered. “That was really a low moment for this mob that descended on the legislature. A number of us were really very angry about that.”
Inside the chamber, Lam tried to make his way through the speech amid muffled cheers, screams and chants of “we want Mike” heard on the other side of the doors.
The protesters ultimately made their way to the final set of doors separating them from the government, pounding on the doors and walls and smashing a historic stained-glass window.
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Harcourt and MLAs could only sit and watch through those windows nervously, with some even helping staff barricade the doors.
“I was going to go over there myself, but I was pulled back by my attorney general,” Harcourt said. “I wasn’t going to go out there, of course. I wasn’t going to go talk to an angry mob.”
Victoria police ultimately arrived to clear the scene, but it would be another hour before the protesters left.
Things eventually died down, with organizers sending a hat around to collect money to pay for the broken window.
The protest ended up being a preview of things to come. During that summer, 900 protesters were arrested during months of day-to-day blockades of logging trucks within Clayoquot Sound itself. Three hundred of those arrests came on a single day — Aug. 9, 1993.
The NDP ultimately agreed to protect the forest from logging, but Harcourt says the protests had nothing to do with his government’s decision.
“What got us to change our mind was Chief George Watts of the Tseshaht First Nation and Simon Lucas, one of the elders, phoning us in sorrow more than anything else to remind us that we hadn’t consulted with them about the decision of the land use plans,” he said.
“I was actually quite horrified by that, and I told George that I apologize and will meet with the leaders and apologize, which I did.”
B.C.’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser did meet with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs earlier this month.
But no such agreement appears to be in sight between the province and the the chiefs, who oppose the Coastal GasLink project.
The company has signed deals with all 20 elected Indigenous councils along the pipeline’s route, but the hereditary clan chiefs claim authority over unceded land and have refused their consent.
While the protests at the legislature this week didn’t see demonstrators make their way inside, Victoria police say they are investigating at least four reports of assault against staff outside the building.
Harcourt is hopeful more events planned at government buildings across Victoria on Friday don’t lead to the violence seen in 1993.
“You’re entitled to your right to peaceful assembly and protest,” he said.
“But when you massively impinge on other people’s rights — blocking trains, blocking commuter routes, blocking access to the people’s democracy in British Columbia — you’re going way beyond what your rights are. And there are consequences.”