A British Columbia access road that had been blockaded by Indigenous protesters since Sunday has been cleared by the RCMP and can now be used to bring water and other supplies to more than 500 pipeline workers, Coastal GasLink says.
Mounties said they arrested 14 people on Thursday while enforcing a court injunction that bars protests from blocking the forest service road used by workers at the pipeline construction site in northern British Columbia.
Those arrested were taken to the RCMP detachment in Houston and would be held in custody to appear before B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, police said.
The RCMP have made efforts to facilitate dialogue between stakeholders, including those opposed to the pipeline, “to no avail,” Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs said in a statement. “It was no longer possible to delay our efforts to rescue the workers. As such, our enforcement operation had to proceed immediately.”
Coastal GasLink said in a statement it had been told the road was not yet secured for public travel.
The blockade was set up Sunday by members of the Gidimt’en clan, one of five in the Wet’suwet’en Nation, cutting off access for more than 500 pipeline workers. The workers had been given eight hours’ notice to leave, the group said in a statement.
Gidimt’en spokesperson Sleydo’, whose also goes by the English name Molly Wickham, said the court-ordered injunction has no authority on their land.
“They are trespassing, violating human rights, violating Indigenous rights and, most importantly, they are violating Wet’suwet’en law,” she said in a video shared online.
However, a statement released Wednesday by the elected Wet’suwet’en council said the protesters didn’t consult with them before blocking the road and their actions “can’t claim to represent the members of the Gidimt’en or any others in the First Nation.”
The RCMP said in a statement earlier on Thursday that they had “serious concerns” with protesters cutting down trees, vandalizing heavy machinery and damaging the forest service road in an effort to prevent industry and police from getting through.
The dispute over the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline flared previously in 2019 and 2020, and protesters who defied the court injunction were arrested.
Opposition to the pipeline among Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at the time sparked solidarity rallies and rail blockades across Canada last year. The elected chief and council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others in the area had approved the project.
Since then, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the federal and provincial governments and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, easing tensions up until now.
The RCMP said they have set up an access control point on the Morice Forest Service Road to prevent further escalation of the situation and to mitigate safety concerns.
Coastal GasLink said in statements throughout this week that it was concerned for its workers, who were at risk of running out of water and other supplies.
The pipeline that would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to Kitimat on the coast is more than halfway finished with almost all of the route cleared and 200 kilometres of pipeline installed so far, the company said.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.