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Damage caused to the Coastal GasLink construction site near Houston, B.C., on Feb. 17.-/AFP/Getty Images

A security worker for the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Northern British Columbia was alone in his truck in the early hours of Thursday, filing a routine report, when he saw what looked like puffs of smoke in the darkness. Then, in a side mirror, he saw several masked people coming up behind his vehicle, carrying what appeared to be flares, as another person started cutting open a nearby steel gate with a cordless grinder.

There was banging on his truck and, in his mirror, he saw one person was holding an axe. The employee was stationed at a gate on the Marten Forest Service Road, which leads to the Morice River drill pad site on the pipeline route, near Houston, B.C. In a written account of the attack released on Sunday by Coastal GasLink, he is called only “Trevor.” The company said it would not divulge his full name.

“I heard smashes on the back tailgate and when I looked in my mirror, I could see one of them was holding an axe ... it was terrifying,” the employee is quoted as saying.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs look for information after masked group attacks Coastal GasLink work site

RCMP investigate ‘violent attack’ at Coastal GasLink work site in B.C.

Coastal GasLink is still assessing the results of the attack, which the company has said did millions of dollars in damage to equipment being used in the construction of the 670-kilometre pipeline. When complete, the line will carry natural gas from northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada’s $18-billion export terminal, now being built in Kitimat.

The incident has once again turned a spotlight on a project whose existence has inflamed long-standing tensions over Indigenous rights and title, and over the methods industry and governments use to build infrastructure.

The company has said about 20 people wearing masks surrounded and attacked Coastal GasLink workers at the work site. RCMP are investigating the incident. The force has said officers had to make their way through downed trees, wire, boards with spikes and other obstacles as they tried to get to the location.

According to the account, Trevor radioed other security staff posted nearby and learned they were also under attack by people with axes. He and other workers were eventually able to escape to a workers’ camp in the area. Trevor said the back window of his truck was smashed. An axe landed on the back seat, he recalled, and someone tossed a torch into the bed of the truck. The company has said no workers were injured.

Coastal GasLink has reached agreements with the 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, which crosses about 190 kilometres of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s traditional territory. But Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs say they – not elected band councils – have authority over Wet’suwet’en’s territory. And those chiefs have not consented to the project.

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The damage to the construction site was allegedly caused by 20 masked and camouflaged attackers.-/AFP/Getty Images

There have been several protests along the pipeline route. In early 2020, demonstrators staged rail and highway blockades across the country in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ position.

In 2019, 2020 and again last year, RCMP conducted raids on protest camps to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction, obtained by Coastal GasLink, against interfering with work on the pipeline.

Politicians, labour leaders and First Nation members have condemned the recent attack.

“This attack shocked our communities,” said Maureen Luggi, elected chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, formerly known as the Broman Lake Indian Band.

The Wet’suwet’en First Nation, which is a member of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, is one of the elected band councils within the broader Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“These violent attacks are against our values. They not only left a great deal of property damage, but also have created a local environmental crisis due to the industrial fluids that were spilled due to the destruction,” Ms. Luggi said.

In a statement, the Carrier Sekani said the attack “appears to have been a highly organized operation carried out by violent and dangerous criminals.”

In 2020, Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs signed a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. and federal governments that outlines an expedited process to implement their rights and title over the Wet’suwet’en’s traditional territory.

The hereditary chiefs’ dispute with Coastal GasLink was not part of that agreement, and it remains unresolved.

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