Sitting on the steps of the legislature, away from the thick of the protest, Samantha Sansregret surveyed the crowd gathered Monday to protest the threat of tar sands, oil tankers and oil pipelines.
“I think we should be good ancestors and think about future generations,” said the soft-spoken Metis woman who lives in Victoria, her drum in hand. “Spills are inevitable.”
Sansregret was one of an estimated 3,000 people who travelled to the B.C. legislature to participate in the Defend Our Coast protest, led by a coalition of First Nations groups, unions and environmental organizations.
Some watched quietly, while others cheered and chanted, and waved placards while wearing elaborate costumes.
With the help of three friends, Leona Marchand navigated the crowd as the body of an enormous blue puppet representing Mother Earth.
“I made the dress last night,” Marchand said, barely visible through the blue polyester costume. “I’m here to represent the earth and how important she is to all of us.”
Among the last to speak, Green Party leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
“Today the Fraser Institute issued a report saying we need to drill for oil and gas,” she said. “They’re addicted to fossil fuels. … When you have a friend with an addiction, you need an intervention and we are the intervention!”
In what was billed as a massive act of civil disobedience, more than 200 people helped to unfold a giant, black fabric banner and staked it into the legislature lawn. Stretching 235 metres, it equalled the length of a super tanker.
Marcus Waddington, a retired teacher, was third in line to lead the march.
“We’re prepared to go to jail,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many protesters. It was thought that staking the banner into the ground could incite police to start arresting protesters, however members from the Victoria Police Department simply watched the event from a distance.
The police will only get involved if people hurt others or vandalize property, said one officer.
“We’re not here to cause a riot,” added another.
While the conclusion to Monday’s protest may have been anti-climatic for many who prepared for arrest, the protest continues across the province Wednesday (Oct. 24).
MLA Ida Chong’s constituency office will be the site of one such protest, intended to drive home opposition to the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals.
Celine Trojand, spokesperson for the Defend Our Coast coalition, said protesters will link arms in front of Chong’s office to show an “unbroken wall of opposition” to Enbridge. “She’s the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and this is important to them (First Nations people),” Trojand said.
Similar demonstrations will take place at MLA offices across the province.
Organizers want today’s protest to draw attention to Chong’s role and responsibilities regarding aboriginal affairs.
“It’s a swing riding that was won by a very narrow margin,” Trojand said. “The way she handles this issue will make a difference in the next election.”
Chong says she and her government share the group’s concern. “They’re saying what we’re saying. It’s a matter of risk/benefit and right now there’s nothing but risk.”
In July, the B.C. government outlined its position on the pipeline proposals by listing five points that needed resolution before the projects could proceed, including that aboriginal and treaty rights be addressed.
“There are some 20 B.C. First Nations groups at the (federal joint review panel) hearings. Not one of them supports the project. That tells us something,” Chong said. “If there is no support that develops from First Nations, I would have to go to the Premier and say ‘we haven’t met that point and can’t proceed.’”
– with files from Tim Collins