Premier John Horgan responded Wednesday to Victoria councillor Ben Isitt saying Victoria police are engaging in a public relations campaign against peaceful demonstrators, city councillors and others advocating for change.

Victoria police said Tuesday evening they were investigating reports of B.C. legislature staff and others being assaulted during the Wet’suwet’en protest.

Afterwards, Isitt wrote on Twitter:

“I was there all day observing interactions between the public and legislative officials. This allegation is #hogwash designed to discredit Indigenous youth and their supporters. VicPD’s mandate is to ensure public safety, not spread #fakenews.”

Victoria police chief Del Manak then responded on Twitter, calling Isitt’s comments “off base and disrespectful.”

“We are asking victims (and witnesses) to step forward if they were assaulted during the process. Our mandate is public safety. Please let us do our job,” Manak wrote.

Isitt, however, wrote that he stood by his comments, saying they respond to a “‘mission creep'” with VicPD management, engaging in a PR campaign against peaceful demonstrators, city councillors and others advocating for change.”

“These kind of political communications are outside of VicPD’s mandate,” Isitt wrote.

“My thoughts on that individual are not printable. I will say I spoke with Mayor Helps today and assured her that I do not view the city council in Victoria as a mirror image of Mr. Isitt. He will carry on living his life the way he does and will have to reckon with that as time goes by,” Horgan said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Horgan said he is going to focus on the positive and he gives “full marks” to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps for making it clear that she and her council do not support the view of Isitt regarding the protests.

Horgan addresses anti-pipeline protests as work resumes on Coastal GasLink project

Premier John Horgan is speaking addressing continuing protests and the resumption of work on the Coastal GasLink project. Horgan cancelled a planned news conference following Tuesday's throne speech due to protests at the legislature.

Posted by CHEK News on Wednesday, February 12, 2020

On Tuesday, Victoria councillors Ben Isitt and Sharmarke Dubow were seen at the Wet’suwet’en supporter protest at the B.C. legislature.

Then on Wednesday, Isitt wrote a Medium post about history being on the side of people standing in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in B.C. opposed to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“Civil disobedience is one of the most noble and important traditions in human history,” Isitt wrote.

“What we are witnessing at this moment in Lekwungen territory (Victoria) and across Turtle Island (British Columbia and Canada) is an upturn in civil disobedience by thousands of people to advance decolonization, climate leadership and recognition of the interests of the Wet’suwet’en People (as affirmed in the settler law of Canada in the 1997 Delgamuukw decision).

Isitt wrote “institutions tied to colonialism, capitalism and vested interests are scrambling to defend the status quo.”

“Here in Lekwungen territory today, the corporate media is frantically spinning the non-violent blockade of the legislature as some kind of ‘violent protest,’ a predictable frame that has accompanied nearly every protest of any significance since at least the 1950s. Similar false narratives are being propagated by mouthpieces of the oil bosses across Turtle Island in response to local manifestations of the social movement,” Isitt wrote.

“We should all refuse to be distracted by these familiar techniques, and instead join the mass movement — standing with thousands of compassionate, principled and courageous people to demand action for decolonization and climate leadership in the here and now — driving the process of historical change today.”

Horgan said during Wednesday’s news conference anti-pipeline demonstrators who prevented people from entering the legislature for his government’s throne speech on Tuesday need to respect the rights of others.

“Peaceful demonstration is fundamental to our success as a democracy,” he said. “But to have a group of people say to others you are illegitimate, you are not allowed in here, you are somehow a sellout to the values of Canadians is just plain wrong, and I want to underline that.”

Horgan said he cancelled a news conference on Tuesday because he wanted to take 24 hours to reflect on what happened.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said on Tuesday she hopes that the province doesn’t see the actions of individual councillors as reflecting on the council or the city as a whole.

“Councillors are free to do what they want in their spare time but the relationship with the province to me is really important and so hopefully the individual councillors actions aren’t seen to reflect on council as a whole,” Helps said.

Some social media posts have indicated there may be more demonstrations this week in the Victoria area.

Meanwhile, two hereditary chiefs of the British Columbia First Nation at the heart of a dispute over the construction of the natural gas pipeline are launching a constitutional challenge.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary chief Lho’imggin, who also uses the name Alphonse Gagnon, and Smogilhgim, also known as Warner Naziel, say they want the Federal Court to declare Canada has a constitutional duty to meet international greenhouse gas emission targets.

If successful, Gagnon and Naziel believe the legal action could lead to cancellation of existing approvals for projects such as the $40-billion LNG Canada development, which depends on construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline across traditional Wet’suwet’en territories in northwestern B.C.

Wet’suwet’en supporters are also in BC Supreme Court in Vancouver today challenging an injunction that ended a multi-day blockade at entrances to two ports.

The blockade and numerous other protests across B.C., Ontario and Quebec, began after RCMP enforced an injunction and arrested 28 people for allegedly violating an exclusion zone near the Coastal GasLink construction site.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says the federal government must step in to resolve tensions over the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

Perry Bellegarde says the federal government has a duty to find a way to solve the underlying primary issue: a conflict between the hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who oppose the pipeline and the elected chiefs who support it.

He said the conflict is fueled by the federal government’s failure to adequately address questions of who holds jurisdiction over ancestral lands outside reserves.

The federal Liberals have said the matter is a provincial one, and while people have the right to protest, the RCMP is upholding the rule of law.

But Bellegarde says in addition to the civil and common law the RCMP is sworn to uphold, there exist generations of Indigenous laws that must be respected as well.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also weighed in on the protests over a B.C. pipeline project that have disrupted rail traffic across the country.

Speaking in Senegal today, he says the federal government respects the right to peaceful protest but the rule of law must also be respected.

With files from The Canadian Press