Clark asked to probe 'intimidation'

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
March 21, 2014 01:00 AM

Protesters lined up in Gibsons on March 15 to show their opposition to BC Ferries service cuts and fare increases. Rallies were also held in Sechelt, Madeira Park, Gabriola Island and Campbell River.

The ferry critic who "outed" Premier Christy Clark's apparent flip-flop on BC Ferries during the March 11 protest in Victoria was targeted for intimidation four days later, the BC Ferry Coalition is charging.

The coalition is calling on Clark to investigate why Strathcona Regional District chair Jim Abram and other ferry protesters from Quadra Island were subjected to an "extraordinary exercise in intimidation" during last Saturday's rallies over service cuts and rising fares.

A news release issued Tuesday by coalition co-founder Jef Keighley said Clark also owes an apology to Abram and about 100 Quadra Island residents who travelled by ferry to Campbell River Saturday morning to hold a peaceful demonstration.

Similar events were held on the Sunshine Coast and Gabriola Island and were organized as a follow-up to the coalition's March 11 protest at the B.C. legislature.

According to the release, Abram and the Quadra Island protesters boarded the ferry, "only to find two private security personnel from K9 Security on board to watch over the Quadra Island citizens. One of the K9 personnel made a point of informing Jim Abram that they had 30 dogs on standby."

Keighley called the move "a clear attempt at intimidation."

On the return trip, he said, despite three separate head counts of passengers, "the skipper demanded that everyone disembark in the wind and rain and go through the toll booths. By this time at least six fully uniformed RCMP in bullet-resistant vests had boarded the ship and were suggesting to the islanders, in another attempt at intimidation, that they had committed a criminal offence."

In the end, the boat was two hours late, inconveniencing passengers at both ends, Keighley said.

The incident, he said, raises serious questions. Since Abram was the master of ceremonies who played the audio clip from Clark's 2008 CKNW talk show at the March 11 rally, Keighley asked whether Abram's exposure of "Clark over her flip-flop on the impacts of excessive ferry fares and service cuts produced a 'let's punish the whistleblower' response from somewhere in the provincial government."

Contacted Wednesday, Clark's office denied any provincial government involvement in the incident.

"Absolutely not," spokesman Ben Chin said. "We don't live in Crimea, so we don't have that kind of power."

BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said the company employs K9 Security throughout the fleet.

"They do random security," Marshall said. "Because we were aware of this event, we did have a K9 officer on the site."

Marshall said the RCMP were called after some of the protesters "stormed back on the vessel and did not pay for their tickets." Under Transport Canada shipping rules, she said, BC Ferries is required to obtain an accurate head count.

"There was no influence from the premier's office," she said. "We did end up cancelling a round trip and delaying a second round trip."

Abram, in an interview Wednesday, said protesters - as well as Canada Day fireworks watchers - have never been asked to pay return fares at the Campbell River terminal under a long-standing BC Ferries practice.

"In this case, we did exactly what we've always done," Abram said. "Somebody needs to investigate why the standing discretionary policy was breached."

Refusing to accept three head counts aboard the vessel, he said, was "a ruse to get everybody off the boat to make sure they paid when they got on the boat."

Abram said he didn't know if the Clark tape had anything to do with the incident, "but I do know that there were some people on the boat who were extremely concerned and extremely frightened by the presence of security guards and the RCMP."

In her 2008 comments, made during an interview with Abram and Denman-Hornby ferry advisory committee co-chair Tony Law, Clark said rising fares would not garner new revenue for BC Ferries because of resulting passenger loss. She also criticized the transportation minister of the time for not seeing fit to fund B.C.'s "maritime highway" on par with blacktop highways and free Inland ferries.

When asked about the tape in a March 12 media scrum, Clark said it was "hard for me to go back to 2008 and understand the context in which I made those comments. It could have been in the context of a question that I asked or another discussion."

Clark said her government is ensuring that BC Ferries rates are kept low and the system is sustainable over the long term.

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