Victoria councillor Ben Isitt responds after social media post criticizing police

Victoria councillor Ben Isitt responds after social media post criticizing police
WatchVictoria councillor Ben Isitt speaks to CHEK about his social media posts on Feb. 13, 2020.

Victoria councillor Ben Isitt spoke to CHEK Thursday, a day after he wrote on social media that Victoria police are engaging in a public relations campaign against peaceful demonstrators, city councillors and others advocating for change.

Isitt and Sharmarke Dubow were both seen at the Wet’suwet’en supporter protest at the B.C. legislature on Feb. 11.

On Thursday, Isitt spoke to CHEK, reiterating that he did not see any altercations between supporters of hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and B.C. government staff.

“I think if we look at protests, frequently they’re overwhelmingly non-violent and that was the case on Tuesday. If I look at my phone, it says I walked 16 kilometres around that building, around eight-and-a-half hours. And I didn’t observe any instance of an altercation between the demonstrators and the legislative officials,” Isitt said.

Isitt said he did see Victoria police officers pushing their way into the crowd.

“I later saw some video that showed some officers manhandling a gentleman and taking him to the ground. And I later spoke with legal observers — there was a team of 20 legal observers that the Indigenous youth had organized — and they confirmed that they have documentation in writing and video of any altercation.”

Isitt said when non-violent protests happen, the media and police often try to “frame it as a violent protest.”

“I think it’s deceptive. It misrepresents the facts and so I chose to call it out as fake news,” Isitt said.

After Victoria police said Tuesday they were investigating reports of B.C. legislature staff and other people being assaulted and injured during the protest, Isitt wrote on Twitter as a response:

“I was there all day observing interactions between the public and legislative officials. This allegation is #hogwash designed to discredit Indigenous youth and their supporters. VicPD’s mandate is to ensure public safety, not spread #fakenews.”

Victoria police Chief Del Manak then replied on Twitter, calling Isitt’s comments “off base and disrespectful.”

“We are asking victims (and witnesses) to step forward if they were assaulted during the process. Our mandate is public safety. Please let us do our job,” Manak wrote.

Isitt, however, wrote that he stood by his comments, saying they respond to a “‘mission creep'” with VicPD management, engaging in a PR campaign against peaceful demonstrators, city councillors and others advocating for change.”

“These kind of political communications are outside of VicPD’s mandate,” Isitt wrote.

Isitt followed his social media posts with a Medium post about how history is on the side of the social movement mobilization in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people.

On Thursday, Isitt said there’s nothing wrong with Victoria police investigating reports of assault but he took issue with the framing of VicPD’s communication.

“It’s the communication they chose to put out after the biggest act of peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience in the history of this city. They chose to introduce the frame of violent protest which was not consistent with the facts. The protocol from the Indigenous youth was no contact. I think they described it as a soft blockade that if anyone wanted to pass, they would be permitted to do so and it sounds like there may have been a few incidents where people did not adhere to that code,” Isitt said.

“I personally think that the frame of violent protest is designed to discredit the peaceful and powerful social movement we’re seeing in support of the Wet’suwet’en people. If the communication from VicPD had said despite an overwhelmingly peaceful protest, we have received a few reports of people being injured or harmed, please come forward if you have information about this. It wasn’t framed in that balanced way. It focused on the outliers and in that way, I think it was inaccurate.”

Isitt said to push back against Victoria police’s comments, he chose to call out the comments to avoid creating “a false impression among the public.”

Isitt said he is meeting with Chief Del Manak on Thursday to have a conversation.

Premier John Horgan did not elaborate on Isitt’s social media posts during a news conference on Wednesday.

“My thoughts on that individual are not printable. I will say I spoke with Mayor Helps today and assured her that I do not view the city council in Victoria as a mirror image of Mr. Isitt. He will carry on living his life the way he does and will have to reckon with that as time goes by,” Horgan said during the news conference.

Isitt said he hasn’t heard what the premier said but it seems that the peaceful uprising by the Indigenous youth and their supporters is having an impact on Horgan.

Victoria police said four people have reported assaults during the Wet’suwet’en protest at BC legislature. Police said three of those people suffered non life-threatening injuries.

Correction notice: an earlier version of this story incorrectly transcribed a quotation from Councillor Isitt, substituting ‘accurate’ where Isitt had said ‘inaccurate.’


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