Protestors hoisted placards on the overpass. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Highway 19 blockade on Island comes down due to safety concerns

One person arrested in relation to Monday’s incident in Comox Valley, though no charges are expected

Monday’s blockade of Highway 19 in the Comox Valley was gone by Tuesday, with protesters packing up because of alleged safety concerns.

Questions linger though about what happened during the 22 hours it blocked off traffic at Exit 117.

While the mood on the empty stretch of highway seemed mostly calm Monday morning, activists mentioned an incident in which a truck had driven up the northbound exit ramp that morning, toward members of the group.

RELATED STORY: Wet’suwet’en supporters close down part of highway in Comox Valley

The incident appears to be the same one captured on video from the truck’s dashboard camera, which had more than 40,000 views on Instagram by Tuesday afternoon. It shows the truck driving quickly the wrong way up the exit, while one of the activists tries to throw a placard in the path of the vehicle. The truck crosses over the grass in the median and into the proper southbound lane. Comox Valley RCMP said they are aware of the video.

RELATED STORY: Pipeline protesters remove Hwy. 19 blockade at Courtenay exit over safety concerns

The newspaper later received an email from people at the protest stating that the blockade came down after 22 hours, though the plan had been to keep it up until the federal and provincial governments responded to outcries over government and RCMP handling of Wet’suwet’en protesters against a pipeline in northeast B.C. The local blockade has generated strong responses online, with people complaining about missed appointments or ferries, and questioning how the protest was allowed to happen. At press time, the newspaper was still trying to find out about the legality of the protest.

The emailed statement states the group was concerned about the potential for escalating violence from a group of men who approached the blockade around noon, one of whom was allegedly arrested. RCMP did confirm one person was arrested in the area Monday but did not provide details. They added no charges are expected. As well, the email statement makes reference to a pickup truck, possibly working with the group of five men, which smashed through a barrier the protesters were trying to reconstruct.

By Monday night, there was another potential altercation with a larger group, according to the email, with the protesters first moving the blockade off the highway and down to the on-ramp before taking it down altogether at about 9:45 p.m.

Comox Valley RCMP released a statement Tuesday afternoon about the protest, stating their primary concerns were public safety, police officer safety, and the preservation of the rights of demonstrators to their freedoms of expression, association and mobility.

“We received several complaints about the traffic disruption,” Const. Monika Terragni, media relations officer, said in the release. “We had a uniform presence on the highway in order to maintain the public peace and be a calming influence while we worked to resolve the matter peacefully.”

A representative from E Division also sent a statement to Black Press in regard to the allegations about altercations, threats at the site or vigilantism.

“While we can certainly understand frustrations may arise while this process is ongoing, we cannot condone vigilantism, and would recommend the public to leave investigations and enforcement to the police. Individuals who engage in this type of action can risk their personal safety or the safety of the community, and may be subject to arrest or charge themselves,” Staff-Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said. “The RCMP respects the right to lawful protests; however, in saying this, if the protest is no longer peaceful or lawful, the police will need to mitigate the circumstances.”

The Comox Valley RCMP asks anyone with complaints regarding criminal activity associated with the protest, to make a report to the detachment at 250-338-1321 instead of posting comments to social media.

–with files from Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media

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Some of the group set up with signs at the southbound entrance to Highway 19. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Exit 117 to the Comox Valley was blocked off as of Monday morning. Photo by Mike Chouinard

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