Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau says anti-pipeline protesters have the right to be heard but they should be mindful of the law during construction of the $6.2-billion Coastal GasLink project in British Columbia.
In June, Coastal GasLink asked the B.C. Supreme Court to extend an injunction to ensure pipeline workers aren’t blocked by protesters on the Morice River Bridge, located along one section of the route. Madam Justice Marguerite Church is expected to make her ruling this summer on whether to continue the interim injunction that she granted in December.
“We’re always going to see some differences in point of view. It’s to be expected,” Mr. Morneau said in an interview. “My perspective is that we need to recognize that a democracy will have different points of view and that we also have the ability to allow people to express those points of view, but to live in a place where you have the rule of law.”
Coastal GasLink, owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp., would transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to an export terminal to be built in Kitimat on the B.C. coast. Last fall, the Royal Dutch Shell-led LNG Canada project began constructing an $18-billion Kitimat terminal for exporting liquefied natural gas to Asia.
Mr. Morneau said elected leaders and elders from the Haisla Nation back Coastal GasLink and LNG Canada.
All 20 elected First Nation councils along the pipeline route, including the Haisla band, have signed agreements with Coastal GasLink in support of the project. The final stretch of the pipeline, as well as the export terminal, would be located on the Haisla’s traditional territory.
But seven hereditary house chiefs from the nearby Wet’suwet’en Nation have led a campaign to oppose Coastal GasLink, saying Indigenous authority rests with hereditary and not elected leaders over the Wet’suwet’en’s traditional territory, in which 28 per cent of the pipeline route would cross.
Coastal GasLink is slated to finish pipeline construction by the end of 2023, while LNG Canada is scheduled to start fuel exports by early 2025. Shell and the four co-owners of LNG Canada decided last fall to proceed with construction of the Kitimat terminal.
“We always understand that in a democracy, there are going to be people who oppose projects. That said, there is a very strong level of support for this," Mr. Morneau said.
He confirmed $220-million in federal funding for the export terminal and $55-million for related infrastructure that includes a new span to replace the Haisla Bridge in Kitimat.
“The $220-million investment in LNG Canada is from the Strategic Innovation Fund. It’s going to support the use of gas turbines that will significantly reduce the carbon-emission intensity of LNG Canada,” the Finance Minister said over the phone during his visit last week to Kitimat.
The $55-million infrastructure allocation is being funded through Western Economic Diversification Canada.
Coastal GasLink launched its court case against protesters in November, arguing that defendants Freda Huson and Warner Naziel are the architects behind the Unist’ot’en camp on the Morice River Bridge. Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary house groups.
In January, a blockade on the bridge ended days after RCMP arrested 14 protesters at a police checkpoint along a remote B.C. logging road that leads to the Unist’ot’en camp.
Michael Lee Ross, a lawyer who represents Ms. Huson and Mr. Naziel, presented his arguments in June during a three-day hearing in B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George, B.C.
“The Wet’suwet’en have continuously exercised Indigenous governmental jurisdiction to make and enforce Wet’suwet’en law, within Wet’suwet’en territory,” Mr. Ross said in a 13-page document filed in court on June 10.
He said Coastal GasLink, also known as CGL, requires permission from hereditary house chiefs to enter unceded territory: “The procuring by CGL of all provincial permits and authorizations necessary under provincial laws is necessary, but not sufficient, for CGL to proceed with its project within Wet’suwet’en territory.”
Three prominent Indigenous women helped form the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition (WMC) in August, 2015, hoping the fledgling group would address the need for a collective decision-making body in hopes of garnering support for Coastal GasLink.
Theresa Tait-Day, one of WMC’s co-founders, said in a statement that the Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW), which represents the hereditary house groups, sanctioned the Unist’ot’en protest camp that dates back to 2010. “The real story is the OW has helped that group Unist’ot’en," she said. “Unist’ot’en will do everything they can to shift the blame over to us.”
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs who oppose the pipeline accuse WMC of being biased because Coastal GasLink and the previous BC Liberal government each provided $30,000 in funding in 2017 to the coalition.
Unist’ot’en officials said in a news release that the WMC doesn’t have the blessing of hereditary house chiefs: “CGL funded and helped create a divisive group of Wet’suwet’en individuals operating outside of the hereditary system, causing irreparable harm to Wet’suwet’en self-governance.”
Coastal GasLink received regulatory approval from British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Office in 2014 to forge ahead with plans to construct a 670-kilometre pipeline from northeast B.C. to Kitimat.
B.C. environmentalist Mike Sawyer, however, has asked the National Energy Board to conduct a full federal review of the pipeline project.