A Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chief leading the opposition to the construction of a B.C. pipeline has been arrested, along with dozens of others who have been protesting across Canada in solidarity with her cause.
Port workers in Vancouver, railway staff in Ontario and travellers along a highway on Vancouver Island faced disruptions on Monday. Arrests mounted, including people apprehended by police in Vancouver and near Houston, B.C.
RCMP arrested Freda Huson, who has been at the forefront of a campaign to prevent Coastal GasLink’s $6.6-billion pipeline from being built in territory claimed by the Wet’suwet’en, enforcing a B.C. court injunction.
Ms. Huson was among the people arrested on Monday near a crucial bridge crossing. She backs Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs who are fighting Coastal GasLink’s plans to transport natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to Kitimat on the coast.
Coastal GasLink has said in court documents that Ms. Huson, who received the hereditary wing-chief (subchief) name Howihkat last year, is one of the two architects behind the Unist’ot’en camp that opposes the pipeline. Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary house groups.
Lawyers for Coastal GasLink say Ms. Huson and Warner Naziel are the co-founders of the Unist’ot’en camp, which was set up in 2010 to block pipelines through the Wet’suwet’en’s unceded traditional territory. By 2015, the camp had expanded to include a healing lodge. Ms. Huson and Mr. Naziel lived together for a decade as a common-law couple. They separated in early 2019.
Ms. Huson and her sister, Brenda Michell, were “forcibly removed off our territories and arrested,” according to a statement posted on Unist’ot’en’s website. RCMP also arrested Ms. Michell’s daughter, Karla Tait, who is the healing lodge’s director of clinical programming.
Ms. Huson’s uncle, Warner William, head chief of Dark House, is one of eight hereditary house chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink. Mr. Naziel, head chief of Sun House, is also part of the campaign to block Coastal GasLink’s plans to construct a 670-kilometre pipeline to transport natural gas to the Kitimat terminal being built by LNG Canada, which wants to export liquefied natural gas to Asia. About 190 kilometres of the route cross Wet’suwet’en territory.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders are battling Coastal GasLink, claiming authority in northern British Columbia over their traditional territory located outside federal reserves. But all 20 elected First Nation councils along the route support the project, including five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils.
On Dec. 31, a B.C. Supreme Court judge extended an injunction to stop Wet’suwet’en members and anti-pipeline supporters from blocking access to Coastal GasLink’s Camp 9A for construction workers. To reach Camp 9A, contractors need to drive down a logging road and also gain access to the Morice River Bridge, situated near the Unist’ot’en camp and healing lodge.
RCMP have been moving through three checkpoints, removing dozens of trees previously felled across the logging road, in order to reach the bridge. Since Thursday, RCMP have made 28 arrests along the road, including seven reported on Monday by Unist’ot’en supporters.
In an open letter last week, Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer expressed disappointment that RCMP had to enforce the court-ordered injunction. “We will now turn our efforts to removing the obstacles along the route in a safe and environmentally responsible way,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.
In British Columbia on Monday, protesters blocked highway traffic near Comox on Vancouver Island.
The Vancouver Police Department said it arrested 43 people on Monday while enforcing a separate injunction granted to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority on Sunday afternoon. The Delta Police Department said it arrested 14 people at a blockade near Deltaport, south of Vancouver.
Port protests had been under way for several days.
Protesters also have been active in Victoria, where youth and supporters are occupying the front steps of the provincial legislature. A rally is planned for Tuesday, when politicians return for the Throne Speech and the spring session.
Canadian National Railway Co. spokesman Jonathan Abecassis said blockades have been disrupting operations in Tyendinaga in Ontario since Feb. 6 and in New Hazelton, B.C., since Feb. 8. No trains were moving at either location, affecting about 200 trains to date and hitting Via Rail passenger service between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, as well as goods such as grain and lumber.
The Unist’ot’en camp said it appreciated the support. “Police enforcement doesn’t intimidate us,” it said.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.