A case launched by Coastal GasLink against pipeline protesters will go to court in June over whether construction workers should be allowed permanent access across a remote bridge in British Columbia.
The case will be heard in B.C. Supreme Court during the week of June 10 in Prince George.
TransCanada Corp., which plans to change its name to TC Energy Corp. at its annual meeting on May 3 in Calgary, owns Coastal GasLink but expects to sell up to 75 per cent of the pipeline project.
Coastal GasLink launched the court case in November, arguing that defendants Freda Huson and Warner Naziel are the architects behind the Unist’ot’en protest camp and blockade on the Morice River Bridge. Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary house groups.
The blockade came down on Jan. 11, one day after protesters agreed to comply with an interim court injunction to grant construction workers temporary access to the area and four days after the RCMP arrested 14 people at a police checkpoint along a logging road in the B.C. Interior.
The stakes are high for the $6.2-billion Coastal GasLink project, which would transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to an export terminal to be built in Kitimat on the B.C. coast. The Royal Dutch Shell-led LNG Canada project in Kitimat includes constructing an $18-billion terminal that would export liquefied natural gas to Asia.
Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer issued a statement last week to acknowledge that criminal contempt charges against the 14 people arrested on Jan. 7 were dropped on April 15 by the BC Prosecution Service. “Our approach continues to be one of respectful and meaningful dialogue,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “This is a critical natural gas pipeline project that will bring social and economic benefits to British Columbia and First Nations."
Coastal GasLink has been approved by all 20 elected First Nation councils along the pipeline route, but a group led by eight Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposes the project, saying jurisdiction for the route falls under the hereditary system.
Michael Lee Ross, a lawyer who represents Ms. Huson and Mr. Naziel, has filed a series of documents and affidavits in recent months. “The defendants deny any unlawful intention to disrupt economic activities undertaken by Coastal GasLink,” Mr. Ross said in a filing dated Feb. 20.
Ms. Huson, a Dark House spokeswoman, lived at the Unist’ot’en protest camp for nine years with her common-law spouse, Mr. Naziel. The couple separated in January.
Ms. Huson is not a house group chief nor wing chief (sub-chief), but she is scheduled in May to receive a hereditary name, which would boost her status within the Wet’suwet’en hereditary system. “I have been groomed for a hereditary name for the last 14 years,” Ms. Huson said in an affidavit.
Mr. Naziel, who calls himself Smogelgem as chief of Sun House under the Laksamshu clan, announced in March that he wants to build a new protest camp on the traditional territory of the Laksamshu (also spelled Likhts’amisyu).
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en is the umbrella organization for the house groups, though Coastal GasLink said it made special efforts to deal separately with Dark House under the Gilseyhu, one of five Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary clans.
Claire Marshall, who has consulted for Coastal GasLink since 2012, said in an affidavit that pipeline representatives reached out repeatedly to hereditary leaders, including attending more than 120 meetings with Office of the Wet’suwet’en staff and various chiefs, as well as exchanging at least 1,300 phone calls and e-mails with them over the years.
But Mike Ridsdale, environmental assessment co-ordinator at the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, said in an affidavit that he sent a letter in November to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission to emphasize opposition to pipeline projects over the years. In that letter, which is entered in court as Exhibit F, Mr. Ridsdale points out that the Gilseyhu clan held a feast in 2011 to oppose all pipeline routes through the Gilseyhu’s unceded territory.
“There is too much at stake for our children to allow any pipeline permit activity,” he wrote.