Students once again occupy MLA office to raise demands in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en

Youths are once again occupying the Kitsilano office of David Eby, BC attorney general and MLA for the UBC-Point Grey riding, in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

This morning, over 50 people — including many UBC students — filed into Eby’s office carrying posters, banners and drums to call for actions against the plan to route the Coastal GasLink pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory.

On December 31, 2019, BC Supreme Court Judge Marguerite Church approved an injunction against Wet’suwet’en members and land defenders who have been blocking the project because it lacks the consent of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

After a month of unsuccessful negotiations, the RCMP began enforcing the injunction on February 6. Since then, dozens of Wet’suwet’en members and other land defenders have been arrested.

In response, the demonstration organizers stressed the need for the BC government to uphold the principle of free, prior and informed consent under Anuk Nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law) and UN Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the province signed into law in November 2019. In demands posted around the office and online, they called on Eby to “intervene in the injunction” and “revoke all permits associated with LNG Canada and Coastal Gas Link’s $40 billion fracked gas projects” until this standard is met.

“If you are unable to uphold your responsibility to Anuk Nu’at’en as well as the principles of UNDRIP, we demand that you resign from the Executive Council immediately,” reads the demands.

In a statement to The Ubyssey, Eby said that his “first concern” is the safety of his staff and public documents held in his office.

“Disappointingly, despite many successful engagements with protesters in the past who made their point without threatening the safety and security of my staff, my team and I will now have review this incident and make changes to protect the openness our community deserves while ensuring staff safety and minimizing future demands on law enforcement,” he wrote.

In demands posted around the office and online, students called on Eby to “intervene in the injunction.”
In demands posted around the office and online, students called on Eby to “intervene in the injunction.” Alex Nguyen

In late January, BC Premier John Horgan also said that the signing of UNDRIP into law doesn’t apply retroactively to in-progress projects like the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

He later called the demonstrations in front of the BC legislature “unacceptable,” following disruptions to its sessions on February 11.

Around 10 officers from the Vancouver Police Department were present at the office monitoring the scene.

“Our primary purpose is to protect the safety of the protestors, the public and the police. We respect peaceful protests and during public demonstrations, police response is proportionate to the activities observed,” wrote Media Relations Officer Sgt. Aaron Roed in a statement to The Ubyssey.

‘Not business as usual anymore’

This is not the first demonstration at Eby’s office to push for actions against the pipeline.

On January 28, around 25 demonstrators from various UBC activist groups held a rally throughout the day to show their support for the January 22 sit-in at BC Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall’s office by Indigenous youths. Refusing to leave when the office closed at 4:30 p.m., three demonstrators were arrested for mischief but were later released.

Since then, there have been non-stop direct actions in Vancouver, throughout the province and across the country.

In the past few days, peaceful rallies in Vancouver have blocked the Port of Vancouver, the Granville bridge and the busy Broadway and Cambie intersection. Days-long demonstration by Indigenous youths and allies also shut down sessions of the BC legislature in Victoria.

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Alex Nguyen

On campus, an art installation at the Reconciliation Pole has been set up yesterday, while some campus groups blocked the Wesbrook Mall and University Boulevard intersection today to show their solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

Hailey Matheson, a UBC social work student from Peguis First Nation, said she has been participating in the rallies and blockades this past week to honour her relatives. She stressed that these actions are about more than the pipeline.

“This is beyond the pipeline — this is about our lives,” Matheson said to The Ubyssey.

“This is about our human rights and our rights as Indigenous nations separate from Canada, especially when on unceded territories. This is about the protection of our family, our women, our men and how we stand up and how we’re treated in the future.”

Herb Varley, who spoke at the protest, shared similar sentiments.

“The thing we’re trying to convey is it’s not business as usual anymore,” he said to The Ubyssey. “People are waking up to the violence that Indigenous people face. People are waking up to the increasing ecological catastrophe that is happening every year.”

Despite the argument that UNDRIP doesn’t apply retroactively, Varley believes that the BC government needs to live by its principles instead of just having it as an “aspirational” document.

“Otherwise, it’s just rhetoric … fooling people into thinking that this government is more progressive than it is,” he said. “The time for rhetoric is past, it’s time for action.”

In the meantime, demonstrators believe all UBC students should be aware of the issue, especially as they live and study on unceded Musqueam land.

“It should mean a lot for all Canadians because this doesn’t only affect Indigenous people — this affects everybody,” said Tori Chief Calf, a Kainai First Nation student in UBC’s gender, race, sexuality and social justice program to The Ubyssey.

“Try your best to reach out to various solidarity movements, donate if you can, attend these rallies, be an ally, stand with Indigenous people at this time and recognize your place on unceded Musqueam territory.”