Reports of possible Pat Bay Highway blockade may have snowball effect, UVic professor says

Reports of possible Pat Bay Highway blockade may have snowball effect, UVic professor says
Demonstrators shut down the Pat Bay Highway at Mount Newton Cross Road on Feb. 26, 2020.

Update: The blockade began around 2 p.m. Read the latest here.

Social media posts and news reports of a possible blockade on the Pat Bay Highway may have a snowball effect, according to a University of Victoria political science professor.

On Tuesday, police in Saanich and Central Saanich were warning drivers about possible delays on the Pat Bay Highway Wednesday after social media posts about a blockade began circulating.

A screenshot being shared on social media says the Pat Bay Highway (Highway 17) will be shut down from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday. It’s unclear where the post originated.

The social media post about the planned blockade on the Pat Bay Highway.

The social media post about the planned blockade on the Pat Bay Highway.

The post said the demonstration is in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are opposed to construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

Both Central Saanich police and Central Saanich Police said they were aware of the social media posts.

Central Saanich police Sgt. Paul Brailey said Tuesday there are indications the protest may be in the Mount Newton area, where the Highway 17 cuts through the Tsawout First Nations reserve.

Central Saanich Police put out another reminder on social media about the post on Wednesday.

Janni Aragon, a UVic a political science professor, said when the posts first started appearing on social media, people were asking if it was really happening. Aragon said groups that have been involved in the other blockades and protests, including the ongoing demonstration at the B.C. legislature, did not make any mention of a blockade.

“I thought it was a hoax, ultimately, but we know with the viral nature of social media that it could actually turn into something so we could see some activists show up and some counter activists as well,” Aragon said.

“With the viral nature of social media we could end up seeing two people show up or 100 people show up. Frankly, I would not be surprised. There is something in the air right now, lots of people are angry. So I would suspect some protesters and counter-protesters would show up.”

She said a good way to report information from social media, like the possible Pat Bay Highway blockade, is to indicate that it hasn’t been verified.

“Nobody wants to be wrong but when these things are beginning to snowball you can say this has not been verified at this time, we’re not sure it’s a hoax or if something will happen because people are looking to you for information,” Aragon said, adding that reports can plant the seed of the idea into other people.

Dave Eberwein, superintendent of the Saanich School District, said the district sent a message out to parents about the possible blockade “out of an abundance of caution.”

“We’re looking at making sure we can re-route buses if necessary. But not knowing what it will look like or what will be impacted, it’s more of a guessing game at this point,” Eberwein said.

The Victoria International Airport said they are also aware of the social media posts and said anyone with travel plans should allow extra time to get to the airport.

Advisory 25/02/2020: We are aware of social media posts about planned blockade of Pat Bay Highway tomorrow 2-5PM in…

Posted by Victoria International Airport on Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A lot of my students will say, oh sorry for the inconvenience but it’s inconvenient to have your land stolen,” Aragon said.

“But I know for your average person not connected to the university, they might want to just get their children.”

Aragon said she expects blockades and other demonstrations will continue into the spring.

A Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chief has said progress is being made on three conditions set by the chiefs for meeting with federal and provincial leaders over a pipeline impasse.

Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, says the meeting could happen as early as tomorrow.

The chiefs have said they will only meet with government leaders once RCMP remove a mobile detachment from their territory and stop foot patrols, and Coastal GasLink pulls its natural gas pipeline workers from the area.

Na’moks says the chiefs have heard through a mediator that RCMP would dismantle the mobile unit, but it would take too much time to meet the chiefs’ deadline of tomorrow.

He says the chiefs have agreed that as long as the foot patrols stop and the unit is shuttered, they have accepted that as meeting the terms for now.

And 51 health professionals in British Columbia have signed an open letter to the prime minister, B.C. Premier John Horgan, police and Indigenous leaders, calling for an end to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project across northern B.C.

They point to studies about the health and climate change risks from pipelines, plus a further warning from the American Journal of Public Health that Indigenous groups are especially vulnerable to such risks.

The letter calls for a halt to further work on the pipeline, at least until the consent of the Wet’suwet’en people has been obtained.

It also calls for a moratorium on further construction permits for the project and a return to talks with Indigenous groups whose land is affected by the pipeline.

Those who have signed the letter range from licensed practical nurses to massage therapists, RNs, doctors and even David Bowering, the retired chief medical health officer of B.C.’s Northern Health Authority.

With files from The Canadian Press

Alexa HuffmanAlexa Huffman

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