A mix of activists – many from Vancouver – are vowing to continue an occupation of part of the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) that is now entering its third week and facing the threat of legal action.
Organizers maintain they have considerable support from locals along the planned truck highway route through North Delta.
But few were in evidence on Tuesday – Day 12 of the protest at what stopthepave.org campaigners call the South Fraser Witness Camp.
Jeremy wouldn’t give his last name but is a veteran of the anti-Olympic protests in downtown Vancouver and wore a button of the activist Anti-Poverty Committee, known for edgy protests and squats in Vancouver.
“I met a lot of these folks during the Olympics,” he said after his fourth night camping out to block the perimeter road.
“I liked what they were doing then. I like what they’re doing now. And I’m just here to support my friends and allies in the spirit of building a larger network of community activists.”
Critics of the protest contend the time to stop the $1.2-billion project was years ago – before construction began. Work is now more thanone-quarter finished.
Some North Delta residents are also looking forward to the elimination of truck traffic from River Road.
Neighbours in the Annieville neighbourhood, meanwhile, have accused the protesters of vandalizing neighbouring gardens – something they deny.
Jeremy said he believes it was a drunk who also tore down some of the protesters’ signs, but concedes “tensions” with some nearby residents have worsened.
Participants maintain the occupation is non-violent, in contrast to an incident at the Earth Day march to launch the camp.
A CTV camera man was shoved and struck by masked marchers carrying black flags who were reminiscent of the anarchists who baited police and at times resorted to vandalism during the 2010 Olympics.
The occupation is also promoted on an anarchist website.
“This is a peace camp,” said Ricky Lavallie, an aboriginal man who lives in Vancouver and had camped three nights as of Tuesday.
Lavallie was a squatter several years ago in the old Woodwards building, which Vancouver housing activists wanted converted for the homeless.
“This place where we’re sitting on belongs to the First Nations people out here, the Coast Salish people out here,” said Lavallie, a Lakota Sioux from Manitoba.
Lavalie said most of those overnighting are not from Surrey and Delta but Vancouver, Whistler and other areas.
“It belongs to them, too, the land we’re sitting on,” he said.
South Vancouver retiree Mary Matheson isn’t camping out but is helping with food, security, organizing and promotion.
She got involved not out of concern over local damage from the road but because she wanted to take a stand against global warming.
“I wanted to find some way to start fighting against it,” Matheson said. “Why are we encouraging more traffic when we’ve got this problem with climate change?”
Tom Jaugelis, a North Surrey resident who has camped out at the site since the tents first went up, said there are plenty of local supporters very concerned about the project.
“People living along the route here have been here throughout this action – people from Delta, Sunbury, Bridgeview, as well as Ladner and Tsawwassen,” he said.
He said there are also participants from Vancouver, Burnaby and some from New Westminster who oppose the North Fraser Perimeter Road.
Not everyone is comfortable with direct action-style resistance and others haven’t yet had time to join the camp.
“I’ve got work and kids going different directions,” said North Delta resident Ernie Baatz, who delivers water to the camp and helps with other logistics.
He’s not concerned about the optics of outsiders leading the occupation.
“It’s an issue of regional significance,” Baatz said, citing the threat to Burns Bog and ancient archaeological sites. “We accept help from all of our neighbours.”
He’s a member of the Sunbury Neighbourhood Association, which has protested the plans since 2005.
Baatz believes it can still be stopped, saying the road is “just piles of sand” so far.
At 1 p.m. Wednesday, representatives of the contractors gave protesters 24 hours to leave the site.
If they don’t, a court injunction will be sought ordering them to leave, according to Gateway Program executive director Geoff Freer.
“Peaceful protests are part of the democratic process,” he said. “But our workers also have the right to collect a pay cheque to support their families.”
Freer said the protesters are illegally preventing work from being done and causing the contractor and workers to incur unnecessary costs.
Refusal to obey an injunction could lead to an enforcement order and arrests by Delta Police.
Baatz stressed the direct action will be peaceful and non-violent if police move in to make arrests.
“We’ll keep building interest in the camp so if they do decide to enforce an injunction there will be too many people there for them to do it,” he said.
Protesters have lately been erecting a new barrier in the path of the road builders.
A 2×4 and plywood structure is rising that Jaugelis said will be a solar-powered media centre.
“Close to 300 homes were demolished along this corridor,” Jaugelis said.
“This is a fitting and a justified action to actually build a structure to stand in the way of construction after so many were demolished.”