British Columbia

5 protesters arrested after Indigenous youth sit-in at B.C. Legislature

Victoria police say five people have been arrested for mischief after occupying an office in the B.C. Legislature on Wednesday night.

Demonstration was streamed live on Facebook before police arrive with handcuffs

The silhouettes of Indigenous Youth for Wet'suwet'en members are seen inside the B.C. Legislature late Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (phoeberamsay/Twitter)

Five people have been arrested after a group of Indigenous youth occupied an office in the B.C. Legislature on Wednesday night.

The demonstrators, members of the group Indigenous Youth for Wet'suwet'en, live-streamed the entire sit-in on Facebook, including police arriving and placing them in handcuffs. 

Victoria police say five people were arrested for mischief just after 9 p.m. PT. They were taken to headquarters for processing and released on the condition they would not attend the legislature grounds. The mischief investigations remain underway.

"Everyone here at the legislature are the biggest fans of peaceful protest but we have to draw a line when it is no longer peaceful and there are criminal code violations," said Alan Mullen, chief of staff to the Speaker of the House. 

He spoke to reporters at about 1:30 a.m. PT, soon after the protesters were take off the grounds by police. 

The sit-in began after a "wholly ineffective" meeting with B.C. Minister for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, one of the young people said during the livestream.

The demonstrators said they met with Fraser to discuss the ongoing dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C., but they don't believe their concerns were addressed.

Ministry spokesperson Sarah Plank told CBC in an email that Fraser agreed to meet with the young people on the condition they would leave the building once the meeting was over. She said the discussion was respectful and lasted for an hour and half, with Green MLA Adam Olsen acting as a witness.

"After the minister and MLA Olsen left, the individuals reneged on their agreement and made it clear that they would not leave the building as agreed. We are disappointed they have not honoured their commitment," Plank said.

According to the group's Twitter account, they are demanding RCMP and Coastal GasLink personnel completely withdraw from Wet'suwet'en territory in northern B.C., and that B.C. revoke permits for the pipeline.

In the live video, the young people are shown eating pizza delivered through an open window by supporters.

A young man identified as Kolin jokes at one point about arrest: "You know it's funny, young Indigenous people trespassing on unceded Indigenous land."

Police said that when they showed up, the protesters had called for others to surround the the legislature building and that responding officers were obstructed and surrounded by over 100 protesters outside the building. It took several hours to to take the five people who were arrested to police headquarters. 

The sit-in comes after Wet'suwet'en leaders and representatives of the federal and B.C. governments brokered a draft accord in response to weeks of civil unrest across the country in support of hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline.

No details of the proposed agreement have been made public, but it does not include a settlement of the pipeline issue.

The focus instead is said to be the question of land rights and title, an opportunity to resolve issues dating back to a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision confirming that the Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan nations never surrendered title to their traditional territories.