As protesters in support of the Wet’suwet’en prepare to shut down a major regional highway in Greater Victoria, local institutions from police to schools continue to prepare for all eventualities.
Social posts circulating online since Tuesday say a protest will shut down the Pat Bay Highway Wednesday afternoon between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. near the intersection of the highway and Mount Newton Cross Road. Such a move would significantly disrupt traffic between the urban core of Greater Victoria and surrounding communities on Saanich Peninsula, as well as key transportation hubs, including the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal and Victoria International Airport.
Sgt. Paul Brailey of Central Saanich Police said he understands some members of the Tsawout First Nation are organizing the protest, having invited other First Nations to participate. Brailey said his office is preparing for hundreds of protesters. “But if it’s less than, all the better,” he said. A comparable protest in the 2013 during the peak of the No Idle movement drew about one hundred, said Brailey, who questions whether today’s blockade will be effective.
“The protesters are trying to make a point and I am not so sure that if they block highways and inconvenience thousands and thousands and thousands of people, that they are going to gain traction with their points within [Greater Victoria] and all of B.C.,” he said.
This said, Brailey said his office has taken several measures to prepare for today.
“We have obviously got additional officers to supplement our usual ones,” he said. When asked about numbers, Brailey declined to disclose them, but said that his office is working with other municipal police departments as well Sidney-North Saanich RCMP to ensure sufficient numbers to deal with traffic and crowd management. He later spoke of “dozens” of officers.
Central Saanich Police has also been working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and its highway maintenance contractor to ensure a sufficient number of flaggers and alternative routes around the protest site to help travellers reach all areas of the Peninsula. This said, he warned off significant congestion along alternate routes, while noting that additional officers are in place to deal with additional traffic, as well as any unexpected protests that might interrupt traffic along those alternate routes.
Brailey said office has also been in touch with Saanich Peninsula Hospital, BC Ambulance Service, BC Ferries and Victoria International Airport.
“We are hoping that protesters recognize the need for ambulances and fire trucks to be able to access all parts of the Peninsula, and we will work with the protesters to ensure that access is given should it be necessary to get through.”
When asked about any existing arrest protocols, Brailey said a legal team will offer feedback to police as the protest unfolds. “If it [the protest] is a few hours, we will likely leave it to be a peaceful protest. If it becomes a long-term protest that closes down the highway for a significant time period, then obviously we will look at options, including court injunctions to have the protesters removed.”
When asked whether police are preparing any additional cells for individuals, whom police might end up arresting at the end of the day, Brailey said sufficient capacity exists within Greater Victoria. “We are not expecting any problems,” he said. “We are hoping there is nobody being arrested. It is an offence under the Criminal Code to block a highway, but we have to balance public safety and inconvenience, with the protesters’ right to protest.”
Brailey’s message for travellers is two-fold.
“Please be patient. … These protests are going on all over B.C. and all over Canada,” he said. “Police are trying to allow a degree of peaceful protest. It does have it’s limits when it comes to obstructing thousands and thousands and thousands of vehicles for a short period of time. But if it gets to a point, where it is going to have a long term effect on people’s access to ferries, airports, their homes, their businesses, then obviously additional things have to be done to make sure it is not a long term situation.”
Brailey is also encouraging travellers to go early to reach their destinations. “And if you can avoid going to the Peninsula, and you don’t have to between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., then I would suggest, stay away.”
The Peninsula News Review has also reached to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, as well as School District No. 63 for questions about their respective preparations and will update this story accordingly.
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