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B.C. port terminal among sites blocked in co-ordinated pro-Palestinian protests

DELTA, B.C. — A blockade by pro-Palestinian protesters at a major port terminal in Metro Vancouver disrupted operations for several hours before dispersing on Monday.
Gantry cranes used to load and unload cargo containers from ships sit idle at Global Container Terminals at Deltaport, in Delta, B.C., Friday, July 7, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

DELTA, B.C. — A blockade by pro-Palestinian protesters at a major port terminal in Metro Vancouver disrupted operations for several hours before dispersing on Monday.

Terminal operator GCT Canada said the protesters' actions were illegal and stopped container trucks from accessing the Deltaport facility by blocking the Roberts Bank causeway for several hours. 

Photos and videos sent by the protesters, who called the event the "People's Picket for Palestine," showed demonstrators standing on the causeway, waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans such as "victory is very near" as they blocked traffic. 

"I am here today to say that the Canadian government and Canadian businesses, like GCT Deltaport, must take a stand and refuse to do business with Israel," protester Atiya Jaffar said in a statement.

The Port of Vancouver is the largest port in Canada, and GCT Deltaport is the country's largest container terminal with capacity to handle 2.4 million standard 20-foot containers every year.

GCT spokesman Marko Dekovic said the company was not warned of the blockade beforehand and did not know why Deltaport was targeted.

"There are two other terminals in Burrard Inlet, DP World Centerm and GCT Vanterm, as well as DP World Fraser Surrey that were not blockaded," Dekovic said in a written response.

Dekovic said Monday's blockade was at one point "severely impacting" the terminal's ability to operate but declined to discuss the port's recovery capabilities "as it may give the protesters other ideas on how to negatively impact the operation."

Trade and transport infrastructure experts say while the disruption from such a blockade is inconvenient for truckers stuck at the terminal gates, it is unlikely to cause serious backlogs. 

"The cargo in containers is not so perishable or valuable that a day’s delay makes a difference," said Simon Fraser University professor of urban studies Peter Hall. "A blockage needs to go on for a while before it has appreciable impact."

University of British Columbia Sauder school of business associate professor Werner Antweiler agreed that the impact of such a blockade should be limited, despite Deltaport seeing about eight trains and 3,500 trucks moving in and out every day based on a 2021 study.

But Antweiler said a bigger question may be on the possibility of similar disruptions from protest blockades in the future.

"Some provinces such as Alberta have adopted laws to protect critical infrastructure, B.C. hasn’t." he said in a written response. 

"Protest is a legal right, but a blockade is not. If the protest is deemed an illegal blockade that disturbs the peace, it could — and should — be removed."

The Delta Police Department said earlier that its officers were at the scene and had been working to restore use of the roadway. 

Protesters said in a statement that the demonstration was co-ordinated with protests around the world aimed at blocking "major choke points in the economy" to cause "the most economic impact."

Other protests on Monday included one in Chicago where pro-Palestinian demonstrators blocked a freeway leading to three terminals at the city's O’Hare International Airport, temporarily stopping traffic into one of the world's busiest airports and causing headaches for travelers.

The B.C. protest contingent said more than 100 demonstrators participated in the blockade.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

The Canadian Press