The 12 Indigenous protesters arrested for holding a sit-in in support of the Wet’suwet’en in Victoria last week have filed complaints against Victoria police.
The young land defenders blocked the entrance to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources on Blanshard Street for about 18 hours, starting at 11 a.m. on Jan. 21. The group was asking that the demands of the hereditary chiefs regarding stopping work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline be upheld, observed and respected.
On Wednesday, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said that several people in attendance were injured, despite Victoria police claims that no one was hurt.
Those arrested sent a formal complaint to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and held a press conference at the student union building on the University of Victoria (UVic) campus on Wednesday morning.
Shay Lynn Sampson, a Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en UVic student who attended the sit-in, said the fallout has been “intense” and has taken a toll on her community. She noted the protest was peaceful and focused on prayer and solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.
“When police arrived, that’s when violence ensued,” Sampson said.
Tsartlip First Nation Chief and Union of BC Indian Chiefs vice-president Don Tom also spoke at the conference, noting that he was proud to stand with the young Indigenous protesters and rebuke the VicPD statements about what took place.
“If we look at the recent history of RCMP not allowing hereditary chiefs past the checkpoint and we have the VicPD here in Victoria giving misinformation regarding the arrests and the treatment of the youth who were peacefully defending Wet’suwet’en rights, it’s very concerning,” Tom said. “They have to be held accountable.”
Ta’Kaiya Blaney, an 18-year-old Tla’amin land defender, was the last to be arrested at the sit-in. At the Jan. 29 press conference, she emphasized that she feels police “went beyond their duty” and treated the Wet’suwet’en supporters at the Ministry office with “hatred and racism.”
“It was heartbreaking to hold ceremony, to sing, to pray with these Indigenous youth and see the way that they were treated by police that night,” Blaney said.
Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, a Gitxsan UVic student arrested during the sit-in, pointed out that this defence of the land is an ongoing effort to protect the it from destruction for future generations.
A legal observer, Alexia Manchon, attended the sit-in and monitored interactions between the protesters and police. Manchon, an Indigenous Law student at UVic, said the protesters occupying the ministry office experienced violence despite explained to the some 30 armed officers on site that “they had no weapons on them and would not be using violence at any point.”
Manchon is also filing a complaint about the police action she witnessed on Jan. 21.
Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Andrea Spindler confirmed that the OPCC has received “several” complaints regarding police conduct during the Jan. 21 sit-in. She could not confirm how many had already been filed but noted that each complaint will be reviewed and investigated by the independent civilian organization.
Black Press Media has reached out to VicPD for comment.