Saanich Police Department is now carrying out a criminal investigation into the dozen or so protestors who shut down the Pat Bay Highway in both directions Sunday night.
“I think it’s a bunch of crap. I was up in Kelowna, I got stuck up there because of the floods and today was the first day I was able to get out, and you come into this,” said Rick, a driver who was again blocked when trying to get home to Victoria.
The group, who declined to speak to CHEK News on camera, identify as “a collective of land defenders” who are demanding that that RCMP get out of Wet’suwet’en ‘yintah,’ meaning land.
Over the past few days, the RCMP have carried out a multi-day operation, arresting 29 people for breach of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction, including journalists and a camp leader at a key work site for Coastal GasLink.
In a four-paragraph statement, the group explained why they decided to shut down the highway.
“These widespread solidarity actions are an effort to deter further colonial violence across Turtle Island. The RCMP attack on the yintah must have widespread consequences. The inconvenience to motorists is minor in the face of centuries of genocide,” the group said in a statement.
The protest did cause major delays, shutting the highway down in both directions leaving some locals waiting in the lineup and unable to turn around for up to four hours.
“I just don’t understand why the police aren’t doing anything about this,” said Lara Storey, who was stuck for hours by the protest.
At the scene of the protest Sunday night, Saanich Police told CHEK News they had negotiated with the protestors, agreeing on a time when they would leave.
There were no arrests made Sunday night, but it turns out this kind of protest is actually illegal.
“Yes, it’s unlawful. Section 423 of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offense to block or obstruct a highway,” said Michael Mulligan, a criminal lawyer in Victoria.
Monday afternoon Saanich Police announced they will be carrying out a criminal investigation.
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affords everyone the right to peaceful, safe, and lawful assemblies. While the group was peaceful, their actions were neither safe nor lawful,” said Saanich Police in a press release.
Meanwhile, other Indigenous British Columbians say these types of movements don’t speak for all Indigenous voices.
“I feel that the non-Indigenous populace in the activism that is taking place, have stolen our voices,” said Chris Sankey, a member of the Coast Tsimshian community of Lax Kw’ Alaams near Prince Rupert, who owns a heavy civil construction company dealing with pipeline integrity called Blackfish Industries.
“For years Indigenous people have been excluded in this country from the economic engine. Now is the time to be at the table making these decisions together with industry, and with the government. And that’s been taken from us with this activism that’s taken place.”
Witnesses with any video or information that would help the criminal investigation into the Pat Bay protests are asked to call the Saanich Police non-emergency line at 250-475-4321 or email Detective Leanne Rowan at [email protected].