Anti-government graffiti found during North Vancouver highway overpass protests

Six weeks before a judge gave the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure an injunction aimed at stopping weekly protests on a North Vancouver Highway 1 overpass, a District of North Vancouver manager alerted the province to graffiti.

Opponents of the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) curriculum in schools and government COVID-19 vaccination programs gathered with flags and banners on the Mountain Highway overpass to promote their causes to commuters stuck in Thursday afternoon traffic at the bottom of the Cut. A small group was there last Thursday, a day after duelling protests about SOGI across the country.

Documents obtained from the ministry under the freedom of information law include a March 24 message from a District of North Vancouver transportation technologist to a ministry roads manager about a tent that was obstructing pedestrians and cyclists on the overpass and distracting drivers below. He worried that the tent could fall on a vehicle.

“This group has been present the last three Thursdays and is typically there for the afternoon rush 3 p.m. to just after 6 p.m.,” Daniel Cifarelli wrote to Keith Lastoria. “This has been ongoing for a lengthy time, however the tent is a new item.”

Cifarelli said the district had installed no stopping signs at the gravel area east of the overpass, on the north side of Mountain Highway, by the Metro Vancouver sanitary siphon, in order to discourage parking.

Almost a week later, on March 30, Cifarelli told Lastoria that the protesters had returned “and now they are vandalizing Metro Vancouver’s infrastructure and your traffic signal cabinet.” He forwarded photographs showing graffiti slogans against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and vaccines. Lastoria, in turn, sent a message to Steve Donnelly of highway maintenance contractor Miller Capilano on March 31, asking him to send crews to patrol. He suggested that there be a conversation with the North Vancouver RCMP.  

“It also appears that there is inappropriate tagging occurring, please have this removed as graffiti,” Lastoria said.

On April 24, ministry operations manager Michael Braun said a local manager had visited the site during a protest, but was not threatened. “So far they have not been aggressive, but they are of the opinion that they have a right to gather and have expressed that they plan to continue their weekly protest.”

He said the next step was posting notices ahead of the group’s next gathering to make it clear that occupying the overpass without permission contravened both the Transportation Act and Trespass Act.

“I’m hoping to connect with the RCMP to discuss this matter and to determine if there is any avenue to enforcement,” Braun wrote.

When the notices were posted April 27, regional manager Elena Farmer said ministry officials chatted with local police, but “they advised that they will not be attending the site.”

Braun told District of North Vancouver communications manager Carolyn Grafton that he instructed staff not to engage with the group, “given the anti-government sentiment.” He mentioned that Lastoria encountered an individual who aggressively demanded his name and the name of his supervisor.

“Keith informed the individual that he did not feel comfortable doing so and that he could find contact information on the internet,” Braun wrote.

The ministry eventually obtained an injunction on May 11, but that did not deter protesters. The North Vancouver RCMP issued a statement on June 21, saying that the anti-SOGI protests “do not align with the RCMP’s core values,” but its role was to balance public safety with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protection of peaceful, lawful and safe demonstrations.

On July 14, counter protesters in support of sexual and gender minorities dominated the overpass. By then, the anti-SOGI protests had spread to another overpass.

North Vancouver RCMP public information officer Const. Mansoor Sahak said Tuesday that there had been “no arrests or charges laid so far” due to the overpass protests.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) found the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure breached the time limit for responding to the FOI request and failed to respond without delay openly, accurately and completely.

The ministry took more than four months to provide the documents after the May 3 application.

Six days before the original June 15 deadline, it invoked a delay to July 28.

On July 27, the ministry said the OIPC granted a 15-working day delay to Aug. 21. However, it did not disclose the documents until Sept. 22.

The delay was mainly for consulting with other public bodies. Internal correspondence showed that the Government Communications and Public Engagement department was one of those, but it was still reviewing eight pages as of July 21. 

The United Nations’ International Day for Universal Access to Information, also known as Right to Know Day, is Thursday.

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