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Peaceful protest planned for Kootenay Lake Ferry terminals

Organizers "Our Ferry Matters" have planned a peaceful gathering to draw attention to the importance of the ferry to the Kootenay region.

There is a peaceful protest planned for Friday at the Kootenay Lake Ferry terminals to raise awareness of the struggles by frequent users of the operation that binds the communities on the West and East shores of Kootenay Lake.

The group called Our Ferry Matters has planned a “peaceful gathering to draw attention to the importance of the ferry to the Kootenay region.”

“We believe the ferry is an integral link that bounds the people and businesses of our communities together,” said a post on the Our Ferry Matters Facebook page.

The Kootenay Lake Ferry has been dealing with disruptions to service since unionized workers with the BCGEU halted operations during the Labour Day weekend.

The union has been in a contract stalemate with operators of the ferries, Western Pacific Marine.

The union is looking for a new collective agreement that will address long-standing issues for ferry workers with substandard wages, benefits and training that have created a staffing crisis for the ferry service.

Unionized workers returned to work following the strike Labour Day weekend, but have been refusing to work overtime. The overtime ban, along with scheduled holidays, has forced some sailings to be cancelled due to not enough crew available to operate the vessels.

The gathering begins at 3 p.m. at the Kootenay Bay Ferry Terminal. The group will board and ride the 3:30 p.m. ferry with signs to the Balfour landing.

Balfour users will meet at 4 p.m. at the landing and join the East Shore participants for the 4:30 sailing. The group will be joined by returning students and workers.

The West Shore group will return on the 5:20 p.m. sailing.

 "We are coming together to take a stand for a safe, reliable, sustainable ferry service over the long-term," said Megan Rokeby-Thomas of Kootenay Bay - one of the key organizers.

"All our lake communities' economies are linked and any disruption to our ferry affects small business and employment on both sides of Kootenay Lake. Lives, jobs and educations are at risk."

The organizing group is collecting personal stories of hardship caused by the current unpredictability of ferry schedules, calling on the public to share stories, write letters and action by the provincial government to end the uncertainty that the labour relations are causing.

"This is about coming together in unity for the good of all our communities and our futures,” said says Gauri Taylor-Topp of Yasodhara Ashram.

“This is not about terminal location debates or dredging — this is about advocating for a sustainable ferry service that we all need and want."

"The lake is all about connections," adds Janet Wallace of Crawford Bay.