Saanich police and West Shore RCMP officers teamed up Monday afternoon to quickly remove old-growth logging protesters who were blocking the northbound lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway at Tillicum Road.
At least four people were arrested and transported to Saanich police headquarters.
The Save Old Growth blockade began at 3:40 p.m., when about 25 people walked onto the highway, set up orange cones and blocked three lanes of traffic. There was drumming and chanting. Some people sat down in the middle of the intersection. The group said it is demanding an immediate end to all old-growth logging on Vancouver Island.
Once the drivers in the northbound lanes realized they were stuck, they quickly became frustrated. A B.C. Transit bus and a police car with its lights flashing was stuck in the gridlock.
Slavka Schiavio was on her way to pick up her five-year-old from daycare.
“He’s going to have a panic attack if I’m not there,” she told a protester. “And you’re telling me that even though I’m the first car in the line, you’re not going to let me turn to go get my kid. He’s five.”
“I understand what you’re saying,” the man replied.
“No you don’t,” said Schiavio. “I like trees too. There are ways we can deal with this, not when it’s time for children to be picked up.”
A woman driver in the next lane, who didn’t want to be interviewed, said she was worried about her diabetic child who needed to get home to get a snack.
Parked behind her, Sean Downey had turned off his car. He said he felt for the protesters.
“I’m actually part of an association called Save Our Homes, a Youbou anti-logging group. I feel for all of us if we lose our old growth,” he said. “The only reason I mind being here is because I had a client in crisis. They were expecting me to go support them. But I called somebody else to support them. So I made it work.”
His group has never done road blocks, said Downey. “There’s not much traffic in Youbou.”
Some people driving into Victoria in the southbound lanes honked their horns in apparent support. Others gave the protesters the finger.
Police dragged the last protesters, who were lying in the middle of the road, off the highway around 4 p.m.
Chiyokten, a member of the Saanich nation, who had been drumming and chanting, said he wanted Premier John Horgan to place a moratorium on all old-growth logging. “John Horgan absolutely has to change his policies on old-growth logging now,” he said.
Saanich police Const. Markus Anastasiades said officers were dealing with priority emergency calls when the blockade began.
“At the end of the day, I thank motorists for being patient and understanding. We were able to clear it up quite quickly. We’re not against protesting because it’s everybody’s right to do so. But we have zero tolerance for people blocking our highways,” said Anastasiades, noting that the intersection is two stops away from the hospital.
“Hopefully this is going to get the message out to them that police are taking swift action and we know the public supports us in what we are trying to accomplish here.”
Save Old Growth has staged five blockades in Victoria and Nanaimo this month, resulting in several arrests. In a press release, they said this will be the last protest action until March.
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