Protest planned to support Wet’suwet’en this Saturday afternoon on Hwy 17 at Espanola

Toronto, Ontario - February 8, 2020: Anti-pipeline protesters organized by Extinction Rebellion block train tracks in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people.

MCKERROW – Traffic will be disrupted this Saturday, March 7 at the junction of Highways 6 and 17 in McKerrow between noon and 5 pm for a peaceful protest in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are opposed to the Coastal GasLink liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline scheduled to be built through their BC territory.

“This peaceful demonstration is supported by the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. You are encouraged to wear your regalia, bring your drums, signs, flags and such. This is a peaceful demonstration and no violence or lawbreaking will be tolerated,” wrote organizer Quinten Kaboni in a Facebook post about the upcoming event.

The highways will not be completely shut down for the duration of the protest. As it is scheduled, there will be 15-minute closures at the top of the hour from 12 noon to 12:15 pm, 1 to 1:15 pm, 2 to 2:15 pm, 3 to 3:15 pm and 4 to 4:15 pm. For perspective, this is approximately the same level of disruption as the Little Current swing bridge causes when it opens hourly during the sailing season.

The first traffic stop will involve a smudge, opening song and a prayer round dance. Each following hour will involve a round dance and the final disruption will involve a closing round dance and prayer.

Parking for the protest will be at the truck stop and trading post.

This is the closest a protest about this issue has come to Manitoulin Island. High-profile protests have emerged in locations across Canada since the start of the year including in major cities, along Canadian National Railway’s trans-Canada mainline between Toronto and Montreal in Tyendinaga Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory and also at Burlington’s Bayview Junction, the busiest railway intersection in the country that sees an average of more than 100 train movements per day in an area shared by all Class I railways in the country.

“We ask that you use caution and exercise safety while being at this event and to stay positive and peaceful and ignore negative remarks. No aggression or violence of any sort or negative things to be said will be tolerated. Please respect and demonstrate in a peaceful way and remember our values,” wrote Mr. Kaboni.

He formed an online group called Wiikwemkoong in Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en as a way to organize supporters and share information about the ongoing disputes. Several people have stepped forward with donations of food and drinks and offers of rides for those unable to drive themselves to the site. 

Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory issued a statement on February 25 expressing its support for Wet’suwet’en peoples’ governance over their unceded territories. Most of British Columbia was never ceded to the Canadian government through treaties; rather, the land has been occupied by settlers for centuries. 

“Canada must honour and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) through legislation, regulations and policy,” the release stated. “Canada must honour the rights of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and all Indigenous people to ‘free, prior and informed consent’ on any contemplated developments on or near aboriginal title lands.”

The release continued that the band administration is supportive of the peaceful protest of Wiikwemkoong Anishinabek and will be watching to make sure all are treated fairly and with respect.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are aware of the protest plans and its provincial liaison team is standing by to monitor this peaceful protest.

“The OPP’s continuous focus during lawful events is to maintain and respect the Charter rights of all persons, including Peaceful Assembly, while ensuring public safety for all,” stated Sergeant Carlo Berardi, OPP spokesperson, in an email to The Expositor.

This past Saturday, representatives from Wet’suwet’en and both the British Columbian and Canadian governments announced they had arrived at some understandings after a few days of negotiations, and had prepared a proposed agreement that would be brought for discussion with Wet’suwet’en individuals. However, pipeline construction is expected to continue.

Despite the progress made in this past weekend’s talks, this Saturday’s protest will proceed as planned.