Swartz Bay ferry terminal reopens after pipeline protesters delay sailings

The Swartz Bay ferry terminal near Victoria has reopened after a protest blocked access and delayed a number of sailings early Monday. 

The demonstration began before dawn, delaying 7 a.m. crossings from Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen for more than an hour. The sailing from Tsawwassen eventually left the terminal around 8:10 a.m., but a later crossing was cancelled altogether.

A statement from a group, which did not identify itself, said the demonstration is in support of Wet'suwet'en members opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

The terminal reopened as the protest ended around 9 a.m., and traffic started flowing again. BC Ferries said all sailings leaving Swartz Bay would be delayed until traffic on Highway 17 has cleared.

Anna Gerrard/Submitted

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the protest blocked the inbound lanes to the Swartz Bay terminal, but there was also "concern" that kayaks might have been in the water.

Passengers driving to get to the fare booths ahead of the sailings were stuck in gridlocked traffic. Sidney RCMP were also on scene.

Anne Roberge had a reservation for the 7 a.m. sailing and couldn't get close to the terminal.

"At one point we said, 'Oh boy. That doesn't look good,'" she said, speaking by phone from her spot in traffic.

Anna Gerrard/Twitter

Coastal GasLink is building a 670-kilometre pipeline from northeast B.C. to Kitimat on the coast. The project runs through Wet'suwet'en traditional territory.

The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along its path, but five hereditary chiefs say the project has no authority without their consent.

Last week, RCMP blocked access to Wet'suwet'en territory, heightening tensions between government officials and hereditary chiefs. The Mounties have increased their presence in the area, setting up a checkpoint and restricting access along a service road that leads to three sites where the Wet'suwet'en are maintaining a presence. 

Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, a spokesperson for the Swartz Bay demonstration, said the grassroots protest was comprised of young people, students and Indigenous allies from across the province.

"I hope it makes a statement because what's happening up north is disheartening ... our way of life is being criminalized by the province," said Sutherland-Wilson, a UVic student who is from the Gitxsan First Nation — a neighbouring nation and ally to the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

"We just couldn't sit down. Something had to be said."