VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – You may be one of the frustrated people affected by some of the big closures in the City of Vancouver over the last week or so because of the ongoing protests but the city’s mayor wants you to know, there’s not much he can do about it.
What’s happening doesn’t really fall under City Hall’s jurisdiction. It, for the most part, falls to the province and for police to monitor.
While Kennedy Stewart is sympathizing with commuters who are getting stuck because of the closures, he thinks these demonstrations show how angry people are and their desire they need to be heard.
“There was a protest outside City Hall a couple of days ago and my staff and I were caught up in it and it delayed us getting home and I totally get it. It’s tough enough getting around the Lower Mainland and protests make it harder,” he says. “However, I agree the Vancouver Police Department that lawful protests are a part of democracy and they’re an integral part of living in a downtown major metropolitan centre. What we have to do is try to find a balance between respecting and reinforcing democratic rights while at the same time making sure the city moves smoothly and that’s the balance we’re trying to achieve at this point.”
With no end in sight for how long these protests will go on, Stewart isn’t speculating on what kind of action may be taken.
“I’ve been trying over the last few days to get a handle on what’s happening here. I have, for example, called all the chiefs of the local First Nations — Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam, also had a good talk with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and am reaching out to other Indigenous leaders to see what kind of information I can obtain. None of the local nations are involved in these protests,” he says. “These are collections of individuals but at this point, I can’t discern any leadership. So, there’s really nobody for me to talk to at this point within the protesters. It seems very organic and it seems very fluid. What we do is we see where they pop up next. Again, protesting is allowed in the city and has been part of our fabric for a long time. However, if there is any conflict involved, then, of course, we have to consider injunctions. But right now, I don’t think those are appropriate.”
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Though he understands the lack of information from organizers is difficult to deal with, the mayor’s office doesn’t really have jurisdiction.
“I think there’s anger out there that is in the community at large to an extent where people feel the only way they can make their voices heard is through protest and I think we’re a city of reconciliation. I think within the city you’d have a very high level of support for the protests as we’ve seen in the past with the climate march that had hundreds of thousands of people in it,” Stewart says. “This is a common form of vocalizing when people are frustrated and want change and I think that’s what you’re seeing here, especially among young people who are concerned about not only reconciliation and Indigenous rights but also about climate change. I think you’re going to see this until folks see real change.”
Stewart chuckled when asked how much longer he thinks these protests will continue. “It’s a big city. These things are going to go on for as long as we’re a big city as far as I know.”
So far anti-pipeline and Indigenous rights demonstrations have disrupted traffic and transit routes around Metro Vancouver, and abroad with VIA Rail shutdowns and CN rail cancelling some service. And while the city is seeing protests against the Coast GasLink pipeline through the Wet’suwet’en territory, Kennedy says if the Trans Mountain pipeline starts construction, there will probably be more demonstrations in Vancouver, “and that’s just part of living in the city.”
“What are the alternatives? When you have intersections full of thousands of people, it’s actually is not safe for police to arrest folks or anything like that,” Stewart says. “The practice in this city has been to wait for things to dissipate and actually there is a culture of protest within the city where that seems to be what happens here is there is a point that’s made, there’s the media coverage people want and then it kind of drifts off. We try to do our best to keep public safety at the forefront of what we’re considering but also to balance that with the democratic rights of people to protest.”
Stewart adds his door is open to those who want to be heard and he has spoken to organizers. “I think this is really a provincial issue that they’re interested in having resolved and that’s what the protests are about. They just happen to be occurring here in the city.”
The mayor says he’s in constant contact with the city manager and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer who reviews the situation, sometimes hourly, according to Stewart.