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Local MLAs Detail Experiences with Wet’suwet’en Protests

Protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en opposition to a pipeline going through traditional territory in northern B.C. have impacted the B.C. Legislature building, causing trouble for politicians and workers trying to enter the building.

The protests specifically escalated last Tuesday at the B.C. Legislature, delaying the throne speech and affecting day-to-day operations.

Tom Shypitka, MLA for Kootenay East said that he was among the few that did not require a police escort to enter the building.

“I got to the Legislature to a bunch of folks protesting outside the building, which is fine, we see protesters all the time, it’s nothing new in that regard. However, getting to the entrance, it was probably about seven people deep on the set of stairs. I attempted to get through it, I got about three into it and I realized that I’m not getting through this crowd. They had their arms locked, yelling ‘shame, shame'” said Shypitka. “I made my way around to the other side of the building to a wheelchair access area that was only two deep and I pushed my way through this time. I had a grocery bag and they ripped that and somebody grabbed my laptop and I yanked that back out of their hands. I finally got my way into the building, one of the ladies, as I looked back, screamed at me with a very angry look on her face saying ‘you’ll need an armed guard to get out of here.’ So, that was the start of my day and the start of the session, and that’s fine, I can handle that kind of stuff.”

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However, for Doug Clovechok, MLA of Columbia River-Revelstoke, getting into the building was a bit more of a challenge.

“I usually get it around 8:00 and usually go in the West entrance and I was completely blocked out of there by chanting protestors. There were literally hundreds of them. I wasn’t able to access the building, they had their hands all locked together and were preventing members from entering,” said Clovechok. “I did eventually get through one of the back doors with three police officers escorting me through chanting and screaming and name-calling. I never felt for my personal safety, I knew that it would be fine, but it certainly was intimidating for many of our members and it’s certainly something that shouldn’t have happened.”

Shypitka said the treatment of government staffers was upsetting to him.

“Some of them were spit on, some were pushed, some people suffered injuries, some had bleeding noses,” added Shypitka. “It was terrible, it was absolutely terrible, especially in the people’s house, where we try to make things good for people, and they impeded that.”

Both Shypitka and Clovechock said they have never seen protests on the level of those seen on the day of the B.C. Government’s throne speech.

“There are people that are here that have been here for 23 years or more in my caucus and they’ve never seen anything like this at all. There have always been protests at the legislature, its the right of Canadians to do that in an orderly and non-threatening way, but these folks were on the steps, they had tents on the steps, they weren’t behind barricades,” explained Clovechok. “I haven’t seen anything like that since I’ve been here and certainly, the people that have been here for a long time have all said that this is unprecedented.”

Shypitka expressed a similar opinion, saying the protests were unique in his experience.

“This demonstration is something I’ve never seen before, and I’ve talked to some of the MLA’s that have been here for a long time and they’ve never seen it either. Where people are physically restricting access. When human life and safety and rights are being denied, that’s when I say it’s gone too far,” Shypitka told MyEastKootenayNow.com.

Protestors at the B.C. Legislature last week were demonstrating in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who have opposed the Coastal GasLink pipeline which is planned to go through their traditional land.

Shypitka, however, feels that some protestors were uninformed about the issue.

“Most people, when I asked them later, didn’t even really know why they were there. A lot of them were paid protesters, some were students from UVic that were given the day off to go protest. I think maybe half of them didn’t even know why they were there,” said Shypitka.

The claim that protestors have been paid has not yet been confirmed by other official sources.

Clovechok expressed his frustrations at the lack of action from the government.

“Preventing people from getting to their daily business is unacceptable, and it’s not within the rule of law of this country,” said Clovechok. “We still haven’t heard a lot out of our federal government about what they’re going to be doing but it effecting our economy, its affecting people’s lives and their livelihoods. There are families that are suffering because of that, and that is unacceptable.”

The federal government has ruled out using force for now while it looks to negotiate and end the protests which have blocked rail lines across the country, preventing goods from getting to their destination and affecting jobs.

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