The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has filed complaints with the civilian review commission overseeing the RCMP, alleging two people were blocked in their ability to deliver food and supplies to protesters against a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.
Harsha Walia, the association’s executive director, said on Wednesday that the BCCLA has received similar complaints beyond the two that prompted the initial submission and may submit further claims to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
The BCCLA’s complaints on behalf of Delee Alexis Nikal and Cody Thomas Merriman underlie tensions over the use of exclusion zones prohibiting Wet’suwet’en people, the public and media from accessing the First Nation’s territories.
The BCCLA’s two clients are a Wet’suwet’en woman and a Haida man married to a Wet’suwet’en woman and adopted into the nation, Ms. Walia said.
By preventing them access to the First Nation’s traditional territory, RCMP violated their Indigenous rights and charter-protected rights, she said in an interview.
“An exclusion zone is unprecedented and extreme,” she said.
At issue is protest against a planned 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would run from northeastern B.C. to a liquefied natural gas terminal currently under construction in Kitimat.
The pipeline is required to supply gas to a planned $40-billion LNG Canada project that has been approved by both the provincial and federal government.
While Coastal GasLink has signed deals with the elected representatives of First Nations along the pipeline route, a group led by hereditary leaders of the Wet-suwet’en Nation is seeking to block construction of the pipeline within their traditional territories.
Wet’suwet’en heriditary leaders authorized chopping down about 100 trees earlier this month along a logging road to block contractors from returning to work at a camp there.
On Monday, the RCMP set up a checkpoint to limit access to the logging road, blocked by dozens of fallen trees.
The RCMP said Wednesday it has not created an exclusion zone, areas enacted when police are enforcing civil injunctions.
The B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction Dec. 31 and the order authorizes RCMP to arrest and remove anyone they have reasonable or probable grounds to believe is knowingly contravening the order.
“At this point, we are not enforcing the B.C. Supreme Court injunction to allow time for dialogue between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, elected councils, Coastal GasLink and government,” the police said in a statement.
"The access control checkpoint is a measured response that reflects the need to prevent further escalation of the situation including the placement of hazards along the roadway and the creation of a third encampment blocking access."
Supporters of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink project have set up three camps and settlements between the checkpoint and the work site.
In the statement, the Mounties said front-line police were implementing new access procedures after the checkpoint was set up on Monday morning.
Of the three people who were turned away, the RCMP said one would not provide basic details, such as identification and purpose of travel, another faced a shift in weather conditions as nightfall approached and the third person was refused access to transport food and supplies.
The police officer at the checkpoint made arrangements for the supplies to be transported in by a different person, but the individuals decided not to proceed and left the area, the Mounties said.
With a report from The Canadian Press.
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