British Columbia

Swartz Bay ferry terminal reopens after pipeline protesters delay sailings

Protest was in support of Wet'suwet'en members opposing Coastal GasLink project

Posted: January 20, 2020
Last Updated: January 20, 2020

Protesters blocked access to the fare booths at the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay for several hours on Monday morning. (Anna Gerrard/Submitted)

The Swartz Bay ferry terminal near Victoria has reopened after a protest blocked access and delayed a number of sailings early Monday. 

The demonstration began before dawn, delaying 7 a.m. crossings from Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen for more than an hour. The sailing from Tsawwassen eventually left the terminal around 8:10 a.m., but a later crossing was cancelled altogether.

A statement from a group, which did not identify itself, said the demonstration is in support of Wet'suwet'en members opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

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The terminal reopened as the protest ended around 9 a.m., and traffic started flowing again. BC Ferries said all sailings leaving Swartz Bay would be delayed until traffic on Highway 17 has cleared.

Inbound lanes leading to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal were blocked early Monday. Passengers trying to make a 7 a.m. sailing were stuck in the gridlock. (Anna Gerrard/Twitter)

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the protest blocked the inbound lanes to the Swartz Bay terminal, but there was also "concern" that kayaks might have been in the water.

Passengers driving to get to the fare booths ahead of the sailings were stuck in gridlocked traffic. Sidney RCMP were also on scene.

Anne Roberge had a reservation for the 7 a.m. sailing and couldn't get close to the terminal.

"At one point we said, 'Oh boy. That doesn't look good,'" she said, speaking by phone from her spot in traffic.

Passengers heading to Swartz Bay were stuck in long lines Monday as a protest blocked access to the terminal. (Annette Toth/Twitter)

Coastal GasLink is building a 670-kilometre pipeline from northeast B.C. to Kitimat on the coast. The project runs through Wet'suwet'en traditional territory.

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The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along its path, but five hereditary chiefs say the project has no authority without their consent.

Last week, RCMP blocked access to Wet'suwet'en territory, heightening tensions between government officials and hereditary chiefs. The Mounties have increased their presence in the area, setting up a checkpoint and restricting access along a service road that leads to three sites where the Wet'suwet'en are maintaining a presence. 

Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, a spokesperson for the Swartz Bay demonstration, said the grassroots protest was comprised of young people, students and Indigenous allies from across the province.

"I hope it makes a statement because what's happening up north is disheartening ... our way of life is being criminalized by the province," said Sutherland-Wilson, a UVic student who is from the Gitxsan First Nation — a neighbouring nation and ally to the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

"We just couldn't sit down. Something had to be said."

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Corrections

  • A previous version of this story mistakenly stated that Extinction Rebellion organized the demonstration at Swartz Bay ferry terminal. In fact, demonstrators said they were not affiliated with any single activist group.
    Jan 20, 2020 11:06 AM PT

With files from CBC's On The Island and The Canadian Press