Police have removed all of the pipeline opponents who had been suspended from the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge for nearly a day-and-a-half.
On Tuesday morning, seven people rappelled from the bridge’s superstructure and spent the day and night suspended from the span, while five others supported them from the bridge.
Shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, North Vancouver RCMP said they were working to apprehend the Greenpeace group, which opposes construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
After discussions between senior officers, RCMP took over the situation from the Vancouver Police Department on Tuesday evening.
“Public safety is the priority, both for the protesters and the police,” the Mounties said in a tweet.
RCMP spokesman Cpl. Richard De Jong said the decision to finally remove the protesters was made “through ongoing overall risk assessment.”
The decision was not related to the fact that several tankers were scheduled to travel under the bridge on Wednesday and had been delayed by the protest, he said.
Nonetheless, De Jong said that since there could be charges laid under the federal Shipping Act, it made sense for the RCMP to take the lead role in apprehending the protesters.
“This is about the safety of the protesters,” he said.
Vancouver police had a marine unit on scene to ensure public safety, said Const. Jason Doucette.
In a pair of videos posted by Greenpeace Canada to Facebook, police officers could be seen removing people on the bridge structure. They then moved to remove the people hanging below.
In a statement released through Greenpeace, Will George, a Coast Salish leader and one of the people who had rappelled down, confirmed he had been arrested.
“I will remain the fierce opposition. It is in my blood to protect the water. Our Indigenous rights are being completely ignored, the safety of our water is being ignored, and most of all my son’s future is at stake. I will do whatever it takes to protect the water and my family and your family,” he said.
A rally was held at noon on Wednesday to support the aerial blockade, at the north end of North Skeena Street in Vancouver, which looks over the approach lanes to the Ironworkers bridge.
“Twelve climbers have been suspended in the path of a tar sands tanker in Vancouver for the past 24 hours,” read a Wednesday morning update from Greenpeace Canada. “This pipeline expansion will lock us into 50 years of fossil fuel infrastructure. We can’t let that happen.”
The blockade was intended to stop oil-tanker traffic from passing under the bridge. Greenpeace organizers had said the tanker Serene Sea was scheduled to leave from Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Marine Terminal on Tuesday, although Trans Mountain said no ships were slated to depart that day.
Early Wednesday, the Serene Sea moved to an anchorage in Burrard Inlet, east of the bridge. According to MarineTraffic.com, the Serene Sea’s next port of call is Huizhou, China, but it’s not expected there until July 23.
In a statement on Wednesday, Trans Mountain said the ship was waiting for “suitable conditions” to depart.
“We respect the right to peacefully demonstrate and there are many ways to express opinions in a safe and lawful manner,” the company said. “It is unfortunate that the actions of these individuals have caused disruptions to vessels and individuals that transit to and from the waters east of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, including customers from our terminal and the other marine cargo terminals.”
“Our top priority is the safety of the community and marine waterway users, and we look forward to a peaceful and swift resolution to this demonstration.”