Tensions building in Wet’suwet’en territory as B.C. pipeline conflict continues

Tensions building in Wet'suwet'en territory as B.C. pipeline conflict continues

Mounties in northern British Columbia say they are enforcing an injunction barring protests from blocking an access road used by Coastal GasLink pipeline workers.

The RCMP wouldn’t confirm Thursday if arrests had been made. A spokesperson for protesters who set up a blockade along the road said in a video posted online that officers had read out the injunction order and then began arresting people.

The blockade was set up Sunday by members of the Gidimt’en clan, one of five in the Wet’suwet’en Nation, cutting off access for more than 500 pipeline workers. The workers had been given eight hours’ notice to leave, the group said in a statement.

Gidimt’en spokesperson Sleydo’, whose also goes by the English name Molly Wickham, said the court-ordered injunction has no authority on their land.

“Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and our clans have full jurisdiction here,” she said in the video shared Thursday. “They are trespassing, violating human rights, violating Indigenous rights and, most importantly, they are violating Wet’suwet’en law.”

However, a statement released Wednesday by the elected Wet’suwet’en council said the protesters didn’t consult with them before blocking the road and their actions “can’t claim to represent the members of the Gidimt’en or any others in the First Nation.”

The Mounties were called in to assist as several hundred workers have been “illegally blocked in by the protesters, who have also been preventing essential supplies and services into the camp,” RCMP said in a statement on Thursday.

“We were hoping that a solution would be reached without the need for police enforcement, however, it has become very clear to us that our discretionary period has come to an end and the RCMP must now enforce the (court) orders.”

Chief Supt. John Brewer said in the statement the RCMP have “serious concerns” with protesters cutting down trees, vandalizing heavy machinery and damaging the forest service road in an effort to prevent industry and police from getting through.

The dispute over the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline flared previously in 2019 and 2020, and protesters who defied the court injunction were arrested.

Opposition to the pipeline among Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at the time sparked solidarity rallies and rail blockades across Canada last year. The elected chief and council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others in the area had approved the project.

Since then, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the federal and provincial governments and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, easing tensions up until now.

The RCMP said they have set up an access control point the Morice Forest Service Road to prevent further escalation of the situation and to mitigate safety concerns.

Jennifer Wickham, media coordinator for the Gidimt’en checkpoint, said chartered planes with RCMP officers had been arriving over the past two days and a number of arrests have been made so far, including two Wet’suwet’en elders.

“I think it’s absolutely crazy that they are sending all these RCMP up north right now when there’s a state of emergency in the province,” she said in an interview.

Coastal GasLink has said in statements throughout this week that it’s concerned for its workers, who were at risk of running out of water and other supplies.

“It is unfortunate that the RCMP must take this step so that lawful access to our lodges and public forestry roads can be restored,” it said Thursday. “As soon as it is safe to do so, water and other supplies will be brought into our workforce lodges.”

The pipeline that would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to Kitimat on the coast is more than halfway finished with almost all of the route cleared and 200 kilometres of pipeline installed so far, the company said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2021.

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