As RCMP gear up to enforce an injunction against Coastal GasLink protesters, recently revealed court documents from last year’s standoff in northern British Columbia show that police characterized activists as holding “radicalized ideology."
The documents show RCMP developed a multipronged strategy to clear last January’s blockade on a remote B.C. logging road, including a five-step process for arrests.
On Jan. 7, 2019, RCMP arrested 14 protesters at a police checkpoint along the logging road leading to a construction site for workers preparing to build a section of the natural gas pipeline.
“I am aware that critical infrastructure can be targeted by persons with radicalized ideology,” Sergeant John Uzelac said in an affidavit signed one day later, as he highlighted the process that RCMP followed before making the arrests.
He said members of the RCMP’s division liaison team conducted “outreach with industry, First Nations and other groups” in an attempt at mediation before moving in on Wet’suwet’en Nation members and their anti-pipeline supporters.
On Monday, RCMP set up a checkpoint to limit access to the logging road, where there are dozens of fallen trees to block Coastal GasLink workers and defend the Wet’suwet’en’s unceded territory. Temperatures have plunged to -30 C at night.
All 20 elected First Nation councils along the 670-kilometre route support the $6.6-billion pipeline, which would run from northeast B.C. to a liquefied natural gas terminal currently under construction for $18-billion in Kitimat on the West Coast.
But a group led by eight house chiefs say Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, not elected councillors, have jurisdiction over unceded territory outside of federal reserves.
On Tuesday, Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer sent a letter to reiterate a request to meet with Indigenous leaders such as John Ridsdale, chief of Rafters on Beaver House – one of 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary house groups. “We continue to be available to meet yourself and the other hereditary chiefs this Friday,” Mr. Pfeiffer told Mr. Ridsdale, who goes by the hereditary name Na’Moks.
In a text message to The Globe and Mail late Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Ridsdale rejected the offer to meet Coastal GasLink, but wants talks instead with the B.C. and federal governments. “Chiefs have stated we wish to meet government on a government-to-government basis, not with proponents,” he said. “Proponents are not decision makers. We are.”
On the day of the arrests last January, the division liaison team spent more than five hours in hopes of “mediating a peaceful resolution with occupants.” After the protesters refused to comply with a court injunction against them, “some pushed the ladders being used by police in an attempt to injure officers,” Sgt. Uzelac said. “Others used accelerants to light tents, personal belongings and a cache of food on fire.”
He added that some of the activists “then used accelerant to ignite several slash piles (rough cut timber and branches), then fell several trees to block police as they fled further up” the forestry road.
Sgt. Uzelac made the statement in an affidavit filed in a B.C. Supreme Court civil case. His affidavit came to light this week after Joseph Choken made his first appearance in provincial court in a criminal case in Houston, B.C.
Two of the 14 arrests resulted in criminal charges.
Mr. Choken, an Anishinabe man who lives in Prince George, is facing charges of assaulting police and resisting or obstructing police. He does not yet have a lawyer, but the counsel on duty, Michael Murphy, told a provincial court judge in Houston Monday that Mr. Choken plans to argue that B.C.’s court system is not the proper venue for his case.
Instead, Mr. Choken says Coastal GasLink has been crossing into the Wet’suwet’en’s unceded territory and he wants his case tried through the United Nations security council or the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Mr. Murphy told the judge.
Another protester, Anton Bueckert, is facing a charge of assault with a weapon. Mr. Bueckert’s lawyer, Joseph McCarthy, said in an interview Tuesday that his client will be mounting a vigorous defence.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders authorized chopping down about 100 trees earlier this month along the logging road to block contractors from returning to work at Coastal GasLink’s Camp 9A.
In his affidavit, Sgt. Uzelac said the integrated national-security enforcement team worked last January with the RCMP’s emergency response team and tactical troops (tac).
“On Jan. 6, 2019, I attended a briefing with members of tac and briefed them on the preferred process for arrest,” he said. “The five-step process includes inform the individual their action is unlawful.”
The second step requires that RCMP “ask the individual to cease the unlawful act, give them the option to discontinue the action.”
The third step is to “caution the individual if they continue they will be arrested and could face charges.” That is followed by confirming that “the individual is aware that they will be arrested and face charges” and finally, the arrest itself.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders issued a statement late Monday to say they have “submitted a formal request to the United Nations to monitor RCMP, government and Coastal GasLink actions on our traditional, unceded territory.”
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