Protesters supporting Wet’suwet’en block access to Swartz Bay ferry terminal

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WatchProtesters brought BC Ferries to a halt today — blockading the Swartz Bay terminal and causing long delays. They're demonstrating in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a pipeline project in Northern BC. But as Tess van Straaten shows us, they also left a lot of frustration in their wake.

Protesters caused severe delays at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal Monday morning after setting up a blockade.

The group had blocked the underpass that leads to the ticketing booths around 6 a.m. They said members in kayaks were also blocking sailings departing the terminal.

Drivers said traffic is was at a standstill until 9 a.m. The 7 a.m. sailing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay left the terminal 70 minutes behind schedule, and the 9 a.m. from Tsawwassen was cancelled. Later in the morning, the 11 a.m. sailing was cancelled due to the delay.

Protesters block access to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal Monday, after a call to action by some Wet’suwet’en First Nations members who are against a Coastal Gaslink project.

The group said they were demonstrating following calls to action issued by some Wet’suwet’en First Nations members, who are opposing the Coastal Gaslink pipeline project.

Several other ferries were being held during the incident, including one at Mayne Island and another at North Pender Island.

When the incident cleared, traffic filed on to the Spirit of Vancouver Island. It left at 9:30 a.m.

Cars backed up as protesters block the underpass in front of B.C. Ferries’ Swartz Bay terminal Monday.

“BC Ferries is an essential service, and I am sure there were lots of customers who had important places to go,” said Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for B.C. Ferries.

“We do respect the right for protesters to peaceful protest but in a way that does not impact our customers like this.”

Sidney/North Saanich RCMP said they worked with protesters to have them clear the scene.

“Some people will be late today and that’s unfortunate,” said Cpl. Chris Manseau, Media Relations Officer with the RCMP.

“We had to take a measured approach to ensure the safety of all protesters and police officers and protesters as well… [protesters] significantly outnumbered [Sidney/North Saanich RCMP] members out at the time.”

B.C. Ferries says traffic began to flow around 9 a.m. but the incident has caused many delays.

Members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations made calls to action after the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of the natural gas company Coastal Gaslink.

The company wants to build a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory.

All of the 20 elected band councils along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route have signed benefits agreements with the company.

But Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs say the project does not have their approval, and has no authority to run through the traditional territory without their consent.

“I represent many people who have come together to stand together with the Wet’suwet’en people in northern B.C.,” said protester Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, of the Gitxsan First Nation.

“We have a lot of people who have been following this situation who honour the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and their governance… we are here because we do not agree with what the premier is doing by not talking to the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.

But some commuters were not happy with the delay. It comes on the heels of a rough week packed with cancellations for B.C. Ferries sailings.

“I am supposed to be in Vancouver Washington today… for a personal event… it’s something we have been trying to do for a week because of the weather and snow etc,” said Bruce Chaytor who was stuck in the gridlock.

“Now this… makes me extremely frustrated, and the fact… I guess it’s not politically correct, but I’d like to see Mounties grow some balls.”

Protesters say there are calls to ‘“shut down rail lines, ports, and industrial infrastructure”, and they are targeting B.C. Ferries “because of the corporation’s deepening integration with the Liquified Natural Gas industry.”

B.C. Ferries says they are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact.

“We have used diesel, we have recently transition to LNG for five of our vessels. While LNG is still a fossil fuel it is cleaner then diesel, and we just had our two new hybrid electric vessels arrive,” added Marshall.

The Coastal Gaslink project caught national attention, after the RCMP raided a blockade and arrested protesters — following a court injunction that was issued.

 

Julian KolsutJulian Kolsut

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