Solidarity with Unist’ot’en protest abruptly ended by SPVM

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The number of pipeline proposals for Northwest BC that big oil companies have been making is astounding. Enbridge Pipeline, PNG Pipeline Looping Project, Pacific Northern Gas, Pacific Trails Pipeline, Coastal GasLink, Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project, Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project… Some resources say there’s at least 11 of these proposals.

The environmental concerns of building pipelines through Canada’s ‘untouched’ lands aside, most of these projects encroach upon the unceded territories of Indigenous people, namely the Wet’suwet’en. For several years, the Unist’ot’en, a clan of Wet’suwet’en, have been struggling to keep the oil companies away from their territories. They have been successful so far; however, the RCMP has been intensifying its efforts to end their resistance.

Along with volunteers, the Unist’ot’en have set up a camp in the territory, setting up checkpoints all around it. They practice free prior and informed consent protocols, which essentially means that people at the checkpoints will ask any visitors their purpose of visit and what they’re bringing into the territory – like border control. If the hereditary chiefs do not approve the visitors, then they’re not allowed in the territory.

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A protestor detained by the SPVM as bystanders watch, July 24. Photo by Cem Ertekin

This is an ongoing struggle and, recently, after the RCMP once again tried to enter the camp but was refused, the campers have made a call out for solidarity demonstrations. It was following this that an “emergency demo” was organized to be held on July 24 in front of the Roddick Gates of McGill University, at the intersection of Sherbrooke and McGill College.

Around 20 demonstrators, five members of alternative media, and ten police cars showed up. Once the organizers believed that a critical mass was reached, the group started to march westward on Sherbrooke. Immediately afterwards, the police cars started to follow them, announcing that the protest was illegal, probably under P-6, but also – the recently popular – Highway Security Code article 500.1.

The group turned left on Mansfield, stopped in front of the CIBC building and gave a speech on why they were gathered. In a pamphlet handed out to passersby, the organizers say that “the situation at the Unist’ot’en camp in so-called British Columbia (B.C.) is moving towards an escalation point.”

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SPVM officer going through the bag of a detained protester, July 24. Photo by Cem Ertekin

They also called for justice for victims of police brutality, namely Sandra Bland and Paul Castaway. “We condemn the police’s differential targeting of the marginalized, racialized and low-income communities across Turtle Island,” they said.

After that, the group continued marching south on Mansfield, and turned west at Maisonneuve. They were able to march until Stanley, at which point one of the police cars overtook the group by going through the bike lane and blocking the street. Surely enough, that left the group completely surrounded in a mini-kettle.

According to The Montreal Gazette, the SPVM says that one person was arrested and eight were ticketed. One of the organizers who wished to remain anonymous, however, told me that six were arrested and three were ticketed. I also saw more than one person being hauled off in a police car; but, to be fair, I did hear the remnants of the group talking about people being released.

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Journalist Matt D’Amours being held by an SPVM officer, July 24. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

It’s insane, on its own, that people were arrested like that in the middle of the street and ticketed for protesting, but one of the people who got a ticket for being there was Matt D’Amours of Concordia’s The Link and a member of 99%Media. Matt was livestreaming the event until it was abruptly cut off by an officer of SPVM.

The ticket says that Matt has “occupied a road used as an alternate route for traffic diverted from a public highway, by placing an obstacle, so as to obstruct vehicular traffic on the road without authorization.” The obstacle in question, apparently, is Matt’s person.

“I find it to be a slightly dubious description of the offence,” Matt said. “And also, my name has been misspelt on this ticket.”

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