Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation blocking access to the site of a proposed natural gas pipeline have reached a deal to comply with an interim court injunction to grant workers temporary entry to the area but remain “adamantly opposed” to the project.
John Ridsdale, hereditary chief of the Tsayu clan, said late Thursday that vehicles blocking the Morice River Bridge will be removed. “We are the peaceful people,” said Mr. Ridsdale, who also goes by Na’moks.
Twenty elected Indigenous bands along the proposed pipeline route have signed project agreements with TransCanada Corp., but a group backed by key Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs remains opposed.
On Monday, Mounties arrested 14 people at a checkpoint on a logging road leading to the site, an action that galvanized support for the Wet’suwet’en across the country and triggered rallies in dozens of cities the following day.
Mr. Ridsdale said the agreement builds on the tentative pact reached Wednesday, and will result in a metal gate remaining at the bridge, while still giving “soft access” to workers from TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink. On Wednesday, the protesters predicted the company would have access by mid-afternoon Thursday, but talks about the details went hours longer.
The injunction lasts until May 31, and it is unclear what legal steps will be taken by Coastal GasLink to extend its access across the Unist’ot’en blockade and get to the natural gas pipeline route located 1.1 kilometres away from the bridge.
“We are adamantly opposed to this proposed project. That will never change,” Mr. Ridsdale said.
He emphasized that Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs spoke directly with RCMP about protocols, and Coastal GasLink was only invited late into Thursday’s 4½-hour meeting as a courtesy.
But Coastal GasLink president Rick Gateman sounded a conciliatory tone.
“I can say that our discussions were extremely respectful and extremely productive,” he said. “As a result of these discussions, we have worked out many of the details that are required for us to have free access across the bridge and beyond.”
Earlier on Thursday, the RCMP took a positive view.
Dave Attfield, RCMP chief superintendent, said talks went smoothly with Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, with some minor details to be worked out. “Good progress,” he said during a break shortly after the 2 p.m. PT deadline came and went.
He described that goal as a general timeline and not a serious matter to meet a proposed Thursday deadline to allow workers from Coastal GasLink to cross the Unist’ot’en blockade.
One sticking point had been whether the camp could retain a gate at the site, which residents say is vital to their safety.
Under a tentative agreement struck Wednesday, Mounties agreed that they would not interfere with the residents of a healing lodge on the blockade site and that members of the Wet’suwet’en clans will continue to have access to the backcountry for trapping. The Wet’suwet’en, meanwhile, said they would allow pipeline construction workers through the site.
The 670-km pipeline would ship natural gas from northern B.C. to Kitimat, on the coast. It is a crucial link in a $40-billion liquefied natural gas project the B.C. and federal governments announced amid much fanfare last fall.
Andy Calitz, chief executive of LNG Canada – the company behind the pipeline, said any further delays could erode confidence in the ability of B.C. and Canada to deliver energy projects.
“We recognize it may not be possible to get unanimous support for a major infrastructure project in B.C., but we believe Canada’s economy cannot prosper without a growing and healthy resource sector," he wrote in a statement. "Projects like our own provide an opportunity that many First Nations and northern communities have not had before and may not see again.”
Mr. Calitz added that there must be “recognition and respect” for the First Nations, northern communities and individuals that support the project.
On Wednesday, police removed an RCMP perimeter leading to the Unist’ot’en camp, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as “a sign of respect” in a town-hall discussion held in Kamloops, B.C.
Mounties said the parties also came to an understanding on several other items, including: There will be a continued police presence conducting patrols in the area; a community-industry safety office will be established on the forest service road corridor as a temporary RCMP detachment; and officers working out of that detachment will undergo cultural-awareness training on Wet’suwet’en traditions.
As well, the Unist’ot’en camp will officially be referred to as the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre.
“We would like to once again emphasize that the RCMP’s focus remains on creating an environment conducive to getting all parties to come to the table and continue to participate in these fruitful discussions,” a statement issued by Corporal Madonna Saunderson with the RCMP’s North District read.
“We will do everything possible to facilitate and support those meetings moving forward, while maintaining peace and keeping everyone safe.”