Seven anti-pipeline protesters invited from their camp on the steps of the B.C. legislature to a discussion inside were granted a “respectful” 90-minute meeting, then refused to leave until five were arrested, Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser says.
Fraser told reporters Thursday the protesters requested a meeting with MLAs, and that was granted for a “small contingent” after discussions with Speaker Darryl Plecas on Wednesday. The meeting was set for 45 minutes and lasted 90 minutes, with no indication it would end in confrontation, he said.
“They asked for a few minutes to compose themselves before going outside,” Fraser said. “I guess that’s not what they were planning to do when they asked for that few minutes.”
Outside, demonstrators attempted to surround the building as legislature security called in Victoria Police.
“Officers who were responding to the scene were surrounded by over 100 protesters and were unable to respond to emergency calls for service,” Victoria Police reported on Twitter Thursday morning, adding that five people were arrested for mischief and released. No injuries were reported.
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) March 5, 2020
The legislature has been closed to the public for nearly two weeks as people opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline project have camped outside. The camp was bolstered Wednesday as University of Victoria students skipped class to come down for a rally and sleep-over that ended in the confrontation with police.
Opposition MLAs grilled Fraser in the legislature Thursday, reminding him of the disruptions that began with a student-led push to stop the NDP government’s Feb. 11 throne speech to start the spring legislature session. Police received several complaints of assault as MLAs, staff and reporters were blocked from entering the legislature.
B.C. Liberal house leader Mary Polak noted Thursday that the campers promised not to light fires, but up to three fires on the steps have filled the legislature with smoke in recent days.
As the protest campers appeared to be packing up to leave, Plecas’ assistant Alan Mullen told reporters that no more tents or fires would be permitted in future demonstrations.
Fraser said he was given no indication by protesters that their often-repeated demand for work to stop on the gas pipeline would be a condition for leaving his office. The protesters promised to leave peacefully and then “reneged on their agreement” after Fraser and B.C. Green Party leader Adam Olsen left the office, the ministry said in a statement.
In a noisy question period Thursday, Premier John Horgan defended Fraser’s efforts to defuse the situation and give the Wet’suwet’en people time to consider a proposal to recognize their Indigenous land title. He criticized “the mob outside” for disrupting efforts in reconciliation.
On Wednesday, Horgan described the ongoing encampment and its demand to stop the pipeline as “counter-productive.”
“The pipeline is permitted,” Horgan said. “It’s being built. It’s being built by Indigenous people to a great degree, and the benefits are well known and well established.”