Welcome back and happy New Year. Wendy Cox here in Vancouver.
Fallen trees blocking construction workers from the site for a natural gas pipeline represent a return to a tense dispute in Northern British Columbia between Coastal GasLink and Indigenous hereditary chiefs who oppose the development.
In a mirror of the conflict that escalated exactly a year ago with the arrest of 14 people, the chiefs vowed Tuesday to defy a new court injunction against the Coastal GasLink protesters. John Ridsdale, who also goes by Na’Moks, told a news conference Tuesday the chiefs want the RCMP to withdraw from Wet’suwet’en Nation’s unceded territory. The chief acknowledged that the blocking trees were felled by members of the protest group, who are demanding the gas company halt work.
Reporter Brent Jang has been covering the conflict closely for a year, since the dispute erupted with a clash with RCMP officers who were enforcing the original court injunction ordering removal of checkpoints preventing the company from accessing the construction site. The natural gas pipeline is required to supply gas from northeastern B.C. to a coastal terminal in Kitimat. It is part of a $40-billion LNG project that has been approved by the federal and B.C. governments, but its route goes near the camp occupied by members of the Unist’ot’en.
Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary house groups. While many of the hereditary leaders – though not all – oppose the project, all five of the elected Wet’suwet’en band councils support the pipeline.
Confused? We explained last year how the internal divisions have stirred up the difficult question: Who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en people?
Last year, the confrontation ended in an uneasy truce in which the protesters agreed to allow access to the site by the construction workers while Coastal GasLink agreed to a series of measures, including leaving longstanding Unist’ot’en buildings in place near the disputed site.
But after several blockades emerged in the remote area, including the fallen logs, the company sought an extension of its previous injunction. On Dec. 31, Madam Justice Marguerite Church released a 51-page decision, citing the need for workers to have safe passage across a bridge in order to get to their construction sites. Pointedly, she wrote there are major rifts within the Wet’suwet’en, with conflicting viewpoints on the pipeline. “All of this evidence suggests that the Indigenous legal perspective in this case is complex and diverse and that the Wet’suwet’en people are deeply divided with respect to either opposition to or support for the pipeline project,” she said.
Earlier this week, Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders issued a statement denouncing the court decision, saying that the gas company has “bulldozed through our territories and destroyed our archeological sites, while private security firms and RCMP have interfered with the constitutionally protected rights of Wet’suwet’en people to access our lands for hunting, trapping and ceremony.”
Coastal GasLink said its staff discovered the fallen trees on Sunday morning, hours after Wet’suwet’en leaders served an “eviction notice” on construction workers at one of the company’s sites.
“Those trees that were put across the road were for our safety,” Na’Moks said Tuesday from Smithers, B.C.
The protesters have enlisted support from environmentalists and activists from around Canada and the world. On Tuesday, the federal Green Party called the dispute a “fight for Indigenous rights and climate justice.”
A United Nations committee called on the Canadian government to halt construction on the project, as well as the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and the Site C hydroelectric dam in northern B.C. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised concerns about whether the government had obtained the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous groups.
The Alberta government immediately fired back, with Premier Jason Kenney calling the recommendation “nonsense.” His energy minister, Sonya Savage, said it was “rich” for an unelected body to be condemning the decisions of duly elected governments – including many First Nations that support those projects.
Matt Wolf, a senior staffer in Mr. Kenney’s office, also mocked the committee’s members, which include representatives from Algeria, China and Russia.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
CALGARY TRANSIT: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland met with Calgary’s mayor, who says he was told the federal government is prepared to provide upfront funding for Calgary’s Green Line light-rail project. Mayor Naheed Nenshi has warned that the recent provincial budget, which delayed some funding for the Green Line, has put the entire project at risk.
MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IN DYING: A hospice in Delta is at the centre of a power struggle over whether to allow medical assistance in dying (MAID) at the facility. The debate has divided a community and resulted in a stand-off between hospice management and B.C.’s Ministry of Health, which last month warned of potential consequences if the hospice continued to refuse to allow MAID on its premises.
TRANS MOUNTAIN: Trans Mountain Corp. is warning that regulatory hearings connected to opposition to its pipeline expansion could delay construction. The Crown corporation is asking the Canada Energy Regulator to expedite detailed route hearings requested by two First Nations groups in B.C., both of which say the project could imperil their drinking water.
STEVEN GALLOWAY BACK IN COURT: The former chair of UBC’s creative writing program and a bestselling novelist was in court Tuesday. A three-judge panel at B.C. Court of Appeal heard arguments over whether the woman whom Mr. Galloway is suing for defamation should be ordered to hand over old correspondences with university officials.
POLITICAL FUNDRAISING: Although the next civic elections in B.C. are almost three years away, donors are already being asked to start giving to civic political parties, a move prompting at least one party to establish a new policy on reporting contributions on an annual basis. The move would go above current provincial guidelines, which critics say are full of holes.
HARM REDUCTION: A non-profit group in Calgary that runs a celebrated harm-reduction program has turned to fundraising concerts to raise money after provincial funding cuts eliminated two-thirds of its budget. The cuts to Alpha House and its Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership, or DOAP, program come as the United Conservative Party government shifts how the province is responding to the opioid crisis. The government is reviewing supervised drug-consumption services while focusing on treatment beds.
GEORGIA STRAIGHT: A publicly traded company has announced plans to acquire The Georgia Straight, a Vancouver-based alternative weekly with a history of challenging authority and tweaking the establishment. Media Central Corporation on Monday said it had entered into a binding letter of intent to acquire Vancouver Free Press, the sole owner and operator of The Georgia Straight and its associated publications, for $1.25-million in cash and shares.
FREE SPEECH ON CAMPUS: An Alberta court case over a pro-life event at the University of Alberta has resulted in a decision that observers say extends free-speech rights onto postsecondary campuses for the first time. Alberta’s Court of Appeal ruled that the university was wrong to ask a student group to provide $17,500 to cover security costs as a condition before holding an anti-abortion protest on campus. The court said the school failed to balance the campus group’s rights with the risk of counter-demonstrations.
IRAN CONFLICT: Sam Sadr’s first trip to the United States from his home in North Vancouver on Saturday was supposed to be a relaxing getaway but he says his birth in Iran made him a target at the border, where he was detained for more than eight hours with his family. Mr. Sadr, a Canadian citizen, has lived in this country for 18 years.
RURAL CRIME: The Alberta government’s focus on combating rural crime has left some municipalities with massive bills that they’ll need to pass onto their residents. The government announced the addition of 300 new RCMP officers as part of its rural crime strategy, but it’s also changing the funding arrangement with municipalities, increasing their share of policing costs beginning this year. Carrie Tait looked into the fallout in places such as Vulcan County, where the reeve, Jason Schneider, says taxpayers will pay more whether it’s the province or the city collecting the money.
COSMIC MYSTERY: Researchers at Canada’s CHIME telescope, located near Pentincton, B.C., have zeroed in on the source of a series of powerful cosmic outbursts. A research paper published in the science journal Nature says that the source of the faraway, repeating pulses – known as “fast radio bursts” or FRB – is from the spiral arms of a galaxy, much like our own, about half a billion light years away. As science reporter Ivan Semeniuk writes, this marks only the second time the origin of these mysterious signals has been pinpointed.
Gary Mason on homelessness: “We are stuck between two fundamental tenets of a fair and just society: a person’s right to freedom and personal agency, versus the duty authorities have to protect a person from self-harm and any attempts to harm others. If one of those was to trump the other, it would be the government’s responsibility to stop someone from harming oneself or harming others.”
Max Fawcett on Alberta’s energy war room: “The industry needs to stop playing the victim and start telling a more compelling story about the role it can play in a lower-carbon economy, and that is going to require more substantial investments of capital and courage than it’s made to date, and ones that go beyond things like, say, wearing T-shirts that proclaim one’s affection for the oil sands. But the alternative is letting others do it instead. And as it has seen with the war room so far, that could end up costing it more than just money.”
Adrienne Tanner on a pigeon flap: “We expect politicians to put their constituents’ interests ahead of their own. Ms. Forbes pursued her pigeon agenda with such zeal, it makes me wonder whether that’s the very reason she ran for office.”
Dan Clapson on food trends: From zero-proof alcohol to cannabis cuisine, our Alberta food writer Dan Clapson looked at the culinary trends that could hit the province this year.
Sage Macgillivray on public art: “Mr. Robinson frequently receives letters of gratitude from patients who have been comforted and inspired by his artwork. They often write of the peace and empowerment they feel and the sense that they are no longer alone. Defenders of Spinning Chandelier argue that the ironic nature of Mr. Graham’s piece gives it social value. But irony elevates ideas above people.”