Victoria police have begun limiting vehicle access to an area around the provincial legislature, ahead of a planned protest against COVID-19 measures.
Police say they are implementing “controlled access points” in the James Bay area starting Saturday, but that foot traffic, local vehicle traffic and transit will not be affected.
The protest, dubbed “Bearhug B.C.,” is being promoted through the website of a group called Canada Unity, which says its mission is to “bring the truth to the public.”
Canada Unity was also involved in the weeks-long occupation of Ottawa that eventually saw the federal government use the Emergencies Act to disperse demonstrators.
Earlier this month, protest organizer James Bauder posted a video pledging the protest would descend on Victoria and “will be occupying that area for months.”
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B.C. Premier John Horgan responded to that promise last week, pledging “there will be no occupation in Victoria,” and telling vehicle convoy protesters to “get a hobby.”
“I wish they’d take some time to watch television and see the evening news about real tragedies and real disruptions in freedom that are going on in Europe right now,” Horgan said, referencing the invasion of Ukraine and heavy-handed police crackdown on anti-war protesters in Russia.
COVID-19 demonstrators are aiming to converge in Vancouver and Victoria starting Sunday and “will be active in the community every day, raising awareness and supporting each other” over “the next few weeks and months,” according to a Canada Unity Facebook post.
Victoria police say they will not prevent “safe, peaceful, lawful protest,” which is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but said demonstrators will need to come on foot or by transit.
Police said the James Bay area has seen eight weeks of COVID-19 protests, which have included the use of air horns and slow-roll blockades that have had a “significant impact” on the health and safety of local residents.
Protests in other cities have also resulted in confrontations between groups as well as police, which Victoria police said they are hoping to avoid.
On the Canada Unity website, Bearhug protesters pledged to engage in “peaceful and lawful protesting” to “restore the rights and freedoms of all Canadians under the Creator.”
Earlier this month, British Columbia announced the end of virtually all COVID-19 restrictions, dropping mask mandates and setting April 8 as the date for the province’s vaccine passport to end.
Vaccine mandates, however, remain in place for health-care workers in long-term care and acute care facilities, as well as the B.C. public service.