RCMP on Sunday continued to enforce a court injunction meant to allow Coastal GasLink to resume work on a $6.6-billion natural gas pipeline in Northern B.C., even as people across the country blocked highways, ports and rail lines to show support for Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs who oppose the project.
Those actions included a partial road block over the weekend near Hazelton, B.C., north of the area that is the subject of the court injunction, by members of the Gitxsan First Nation.
“We are absolutely standing with the Wet’suwet’en, our brothers and sisters, and their fight – we all have had the same fight for hundreds of years,” Skayan, a Gitxsan hereditary chief, said Sunday in a telephone interview.
The neighbouring Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en nations each have governance systems in which hereditary leaders – not elected band councillors – have authority over traditional territory, she said.
“We totally see where [the Wet’suwet’en] are coming from ... people keep saying that there was consent from 20 First Nation elected bands. Is the pipeline going through any of their reserves? No – it’s going through the hereditary chiefs’ [territory], which is supposed to be there for future generations,” said Skayan, who also goes by Anita Davis.
RCMP began enforcing a court order this past Thursday, when police arrested six people at the 39.5-kilometre mark of a logging road where people opposed to the pipeline have set up camps, including the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre at the 66-km mark of the same road. As of Sunday afternoon, 21 people had been arrested, RCMP Corporal Chris Manseau said Sunday in an e-mail.
Asked if police would require people to leave the Unist’ot’en lodge, Cpl. Manseau said the injunction is related to road access for the company.
“So long as persons inside the lodge are not impeding access, there is no reason why they could not continue to stay and use the lodge,” he said.
Police on Saturday also said they moved what they called an “access control checkpoint” from the 27-km mark to the 4-km mark of the logging road, resulting in a complaint from the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
Actions in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs included a protest that blocked Victoria’s downtown Johnson Street bridge on Saturday, a rally at Vancouver’s City Hall on Sunday, protests in Ontario over the weekend that disrupted Via Rail traffic and a Sunday blockade at B.C.’s Deltaport.
Coastal GasLink’s pipeline would transport natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat on the coast, where Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led LNG Canada has started building an $18-billion terminal that is slated to export liquefied natural gas to Asia by early 2025.
About 190 km of the 670-km pipeline route crosses the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s traditional territory.
B.C. and Ottawa support the pipeline, as do the elected band councils of all 20 First Nations along the route. But a group led by eight Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs and their supporters are opposed, saying hereditary leaders, not elected councillors, have jurisdiction over unceded territory outside federal reserves.
That opposition is unfolding on the Morice West Forest Service Road: a logging road that Coastal GasLink needs to get to pipeline work sites and where Wet’suwet’en Nation members and supporters have set up checkpoints and a lodge in an attempt to stop that from happening.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge in late December extended what had been an interim injunction, setting the stage for the RCMP to enforce the court order. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on Jan. 4 responded by issuing what they called an eviction order to Coastal GasLink.
But police, who came under heavy criticism for tactics used in enforcing an interim injunction in January, 2019, when 14 people were arrested, did not immediately act.
On Jan. 27, B.C. Premier John Horgan appointed former NDP MP Nathan Cullen as a liaison between the province and hereditary chiefs. Those talks broke down last week.
With a report from Brent Jang