Protest slows highway traffic
Periodic slowdowns occurred on Ontario highways Friday, including major ones in the London region, as Indigenous groups held what they described as a “solidarity slowdown” with a British Columbia community protesting a natural gas pipeline.
Before the protest began, organizer Sunny Maracle said drivers would be travelling at slow speeds down highways to show their support for the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
Earlier this week, heavily armed police arrested people protesting a Coastal GasLink pipeline that would run through the Wet’suwet’en territory to Kitimat, B.C.
Maracle said Friday’s peaceful protests were meant to support a community fighting to preserve its ancestral lands.
He said convoys of supporters were converging near Brantford, adding other groups were gathering in the eastern part of the province. OPP in the London area warned Friday morning about the traffic-jamming protests along highways 402, 401 and 403.
Provincial police in various parts of Ontario reported vehicles travelling at between 50 and 60 kilometres an hour, causing rolling delays, but said the protests were peaceful.
Maracle said the situation in B.C. demonstrates the government’s lack of respect for Indigenous communities and the ways in which they try to conduct their affairs.
“We close the highway because of the way the government’s carrying on trying to take our land and forcing stuff down our throats,” Maracle said. “We’re telling them no, they’re going across our land . . . They had no right to do what they did to our people out west.”
On Monday, 14 people were arrested after the Mounties took apart a gate that blocked access to an area where Coastal GasLink wants to build a natural gas pipeline.
The arrests were made as the RCMP enforced a court injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en who opposed the pipeline by preventing access to the planned route. TC Energy, the company formerly known as TransCanada that plans to develop the pipeline, said it has signed agreements with the elected councils of all 20 First Nations along the path, including the Wet’suwet’en.
But members of the First Nation opposing the pipeline said the company failed to get consent from its five house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected. They argue the elected council has jurisdiction only over the reserve, which is much smaller than the 22,000 square kilometres that comprise the Wet’suwet’ens traditional territory.
Maracle said Friday’s highway protesters agree that band councils are not empowered to make decisions for the community.
Police indicated the delays were not long-lasting. OPP say they were working to maintain and restore traffic flow, while working with protesters to allow them “to exercise their lawful rights.”