A natural gas pipeline stirred unrest in Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory in northern B.C. and in the form of protest rallies across the province, including Nanaimo, on Tuesday.
About 90 people – representing various groups that included First Nations from the Island, the Council of Canadians and members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others – gathered at the Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue intersection downtown to vent their opposition to the Coastal GasLink project and arrests made by the RCMP to clear protest camps blocking construction progress as part of an interim injunction issued by the B.C. Supreme Court.
At about 12:30 p.m. the protesters in Nanaimo stepped from the sidewalks to the centre of the city’s main downtown intersection to chant anti-government, anti-police and anti-project slogans, and blocked traffic for several minutes. Motorists sounded their horns, made U-turns and edged their vehicles toward the crowd until the gathering marched up Commercial Street and onto Front Street to continue the rally in front of the Nanaimo courthouse.
“The hereditary chiefs and the hereditary clans have said no to this project,” Paul Manly, rally organizer, said in his address to the rally.
Manly argued the “raid” by the RCMP goes against the Tsilhqot’in decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which he said prevents economic development on First Nation lands without prior and informed consent.
“It is shameful that our national police force is out enforcing for multinational corporations,” he said.
Annette Favelle of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation said the RCMP action is unconstitutional.
“They broke the constitutional law,” Favelle said. “They’ve broken our Wet’suwet’en law. We had a feast back home. All five clans, all five hereditary chiefs agreed. No pipeline.”
Manly said he was not aware the crowd would move to block the intersection. He noted there were no cars present when the crowd moved onto the roadway, but became concerned when traffic began to pile up and some drivers appeared to become frustrated.
“My gut wrenches whenever people do something like that because I’m concerned for people’s safety,” he said.
Police presence at the rally was small. Two members of the Nanaimo RCMP bicycle unit arrived as the crowd of protesters was leaving the Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue intersection and stood by at a distance as the rally, which remained peaceful, ended shortly after 1 p.m.