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British Columbia Activists call RCMP’s plan to remove Indigenous blockade of B.C. pipeline an ‘act of war’

A sign for a blockade checkpoint by the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation is shown in this undated handout photo posted on the Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidumt'en Territory Facebook page.

HO/The Canadian Press

People who have set up checkpoints to block a planned pipeline in northern B.C. issued a call for support on Sunday, saying RCMP are planning to enforce a court injunction and referring to a police ultimatum as an “act of war.”

In a statement Sunday, the Unist’ot’en Camp said two checkpoints in the region were on high alert after a Saturday meeting between checkpoint representatives and police.

“Yesterday, members of the RCMP’s Aboriginal Police Liaison met with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and indicated that specially trained tactical forces will be deployed to forcibly remove Wet’suwet’en people from sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory,” the statement said.

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“The RCMP’s ultimatum, to allow TransCanada access to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory or face police invasion, is an act of war. … Canada is now attempting to do what it has always done – criminalize and use violence against Indigenous people so that their unceded homelands can be exploited for profit,” the statement said.

Both checkpoints – the Unist’ot’en blockade and the Gidimt’en checkpoint – are near Houston, B.C., about 620 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, and along the route of the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The $6.2-billion project from Coastal GasLink, a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp., would ship national gas from northeast B.C. to a liquefied natural gas terminal to be built in Kitimat on the West Coast by Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led LNG Canada. Coastal GasLink wants to start construction in January on an 84-kilometre pipe section, near Smithers, B.C.

Jennifer Wickham, a spokeswoman for the Gidimt’en checkpoint, on Sunday said supporters had seen police staff and vehicles in Houston and Smithers.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of police activity,” Ms. Wickham said.

In a statement Sunday, RCMP said they respect the Wet’suwet’en culture and recognize “the importance of open and direct dialogue between all parties involved in this dispute.”

All 20 elected Indigenous bands along Coastal GasLink’s route have signed project agreements with TransCanada, but a group backed by key Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs remains opposed.

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On Dec. 14, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted an interim injunction for Coastal GasLink to remove the Unist’ot’en blockade.

Instead of removing it, opponents set up a second checkpoint, the Gidimt’en checkpoint.

The Gidimt’en are one of five clans of the Wet’suwet’en, a First Nation that was part of a landmark court case, Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, over aboriginal title in the 1990s. That decision confirmed Indigenous peoples have valid claims to ancestral lands they had never ceded by treaty.

The RCMP statement on Sunday also referred to the 1997 court case, saying “it is our understanding that there has been no declaration of aboriginal title” to the area where the Unist’ot’en camp is currently located.

“Aboriginal title to this land, and which Indigenous nation holds it, has not been determined,” the RCMP statement said.

“Regardless of the outcome of any [court action] in the future, the RCMP is the police agency with jurisdiction,” it added.

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The statement did not say when or if the court order would be enforced, saying only that “should enforcement take place, the RCMP will be prepared to ensure the safety of everyone involved – demonstrators, police officers, area residents, motorists, media and general public.”

The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

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