A small group of Indigenous protesters was arrested at the B.C. legislature in Victoria Wednesday night after refusing to leave a meeting room inside the building.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations said Minister Scott Fraser had invited the group to meet in the Rattenbury Room earlier Wednesday after a request from a larger group of protesters outside. Interim Green Party leader Adam Olsen served as a witness.
“The discussion lasted an hour and a half, was respectful, and occurred in good faith,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The ministry said the delegation had agreed to leave the room once the meeting ended, but the protesters “reneged on their agreement and made it clear that they would not leave the building as agreed.”
“We are disappointed they have not honoured their commitment,” the statement continued.
Alan Mullen, chief of staff of the Office of the Speaker, said the five protesters would not leave when asked repeatedly while the building was being closed for the day despite several requests afterward.
“Obviously, the building is closed, so they can’t be here,” he said. “The building is closed to the public, and they know that.”
The five protesters were put into handcuffs by Victoria police with the help of legislature security staff. Speaker Darryl Plecas was also monitoring the situation along with new clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd. Wednesday was Ryan-Lloyd’s second day on the job.
Mullen said the protesters would be removed from the building and face charges of mischief. He wouldn’t speak to whether any other charges would be laid.
Victoria Police said five protesters were arrested for mischief and an investigation is underway. Protesters were transported to police headquarters for processing and released on conditions, which include that they cannot attend the legislature grounds, including Confederation Park.
Police also said officers “responding to the scene were surrounded by over 100 protesters and were unable to respond to emergency calls for service.”
The five protesters are associated with a larger group that has been congregating on the legislature grounds for weeks in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.
The group had taken over the steps of the legislature leading up to the throne speech last month. That day saw the crowd balloon in size, with protesters blocking both elected government officials and staff trying to enter for the speech.
An injunction covering all B.C. government buildings in the capital prevents the protesters from blocking entrances, but Mullen said the group is still “in the general vicinity.”
Mullen said while legislature staff have been “sort of lenient” about the protesters chanting and setting ceremonial fires outside, the actions of the smaller group went too far.
“When you enter the legislature, the people’s house, and refuse to leave and continue to refuse to leave when asked, that crosses the line as far as we’re concerned,” he said.
The protesters are demanding the RCMP withdraw from traditional Wet’suwet’en territory near Houston, B.C., where 28 people were arrested in February while an injunction was enforced.
They’re also calling for B.C. to revoke the permits for the Coastal GasLink project and nullify all injunctions preventing similar solidarity protests and blockades across the country.
Fraser and his federal counterpart Carolyn Bennett reached a tentative deal on land rights and title with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs Sunday after three days of negotiations in Smithers, B.C.
The agreement, which does not affect the Coastal GasLink project, still has to be ratified by the Wet’suwet’en people before it can be made official by both governments and the chiefs.
The hereditary chiefs have argued their sole rights and title over the land, partially confirmed in a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision that the agreement would effectively resolve, gives them the right to deny Coastal GasLink permission to lay the pipeline through their traditional territory.