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Heavy equipment at a construction site for a Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline near Houston, B.C. was damaged after an attack allegedly caused by 20 masked and camouflaged attackers.-/AFP/Getty Images

Nine people on a work site for a controversial natural gas pipeline in northern B.C. were forced to flee their remote forest work camp in the middle of the night this week after 20 masked attackers, some carrying axes, overwhelmed security at the site.

Coastal GasLink, owner of the pipeline project, provided the dramatic details on Friday after news of the attack prompted condemnation from federal and provincial politicians.

The masked attackers cut the lights and power on the site in the early hours of Thursday, some 60 kilometres from Houston, then commandeered heavy equipment, which they used to cause “significant damage to other heavy equipment and trailers,” CGL said in a statement. The video surveillance system was disabled, but workers were able to take photos and videos that have been given to the RCMP.

The company statement did not say how the workers got away or what had happened to the security staff at the site.

A yellow school bus, tire spikes, felled trees and fires were used to slow the police response to the remote work site near the Morice River off the Marten Forest Service Road. The RCMP said on Thursday that officers were attacked with smoke bombs while attempting to reach the site to respond, adding that one was injured.

“This is absolutely shocking. And quite scary,” said MLA Ellis Ross, former chief councillor of the Haisla Nation. “There were workers inside a truck while attackers were trying to light it on fire.”

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The attack was reported to have been done by approximately 20 people, some armed with axes, say RCMP in a statement.-/AFP/Getty Images

The company estimates damages “in the millions of dollars,” and said that in the past several weeks, “unknown people” have used forest trails to access this construction site, and “disrupt activities by confronting and intimidating workers.” The statement said it was not known whether these incidents, which were reported to police, were related to the attack.

Neither the company nor the RCMP have said whether the attackers left on foot or in vehicles. The RCMP maintained a checkpoint on the road after the attack, but said they do not know where the attackers went.

Coastal GasLink’s 670-kilometre pipeline, which would carry gas from northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada’s $18-billion export terminal, has faced sustained opposition from some Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary leaders and their supporters because it does not have the consent of hereditary chiefs. The pipeline route crosses about 190 kilometres of the Wet’suwet’en’s traditional territory.

The elected band councils of 20 Indigenous communities along the Coastal GasLink route, including five Wet’suwet’en bands, support the pipeline.

In 2019 and 2020, RCMP conducted raids on protest camps near the site to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink.

“All we know is no arrests or charges,” John Ridsdale, whose Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chief name is Na’Moks, said in a text message to The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Ridsdale, who is head chief of Rafters on Beaver House, one of 13 hereditary house groups belonging to the Wet’suwet’en Nation, said not enough details are known about what happened on Thursday.

Before 2020, the RCMP had a portable detachment near the site. Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders asked the RCMP to remove it, “and we followed through with that,” RCMP Sergeant Chris Manseau said in an interview.

Since then, RCMP have patrolled the logging road.

“We weren’t going to remain there full-time because there wasn’t a need for it,” Sgt. Manseau said. “With this most recent incident, it’s possible that we may have to step up our patrols again.”

Theresa Tait Day, a Wet’suwet’en member who generally supports industrial development, said “I hope they find out who did it because certainly that is a horrible stain in terms of how to deal with industry.”

The pipeline’s export facility lies in Haisla territory in Kitimat. Mr. Ross said he wanted to “make it clear that the First Nations who all signed on the LNG agreement are not the ones behind this.”

Mr. Ross noted that 92 per cent of his community voted in favour of the project: “A lot of the people working on the pipeline are First Nations themselves. They are only trying to build a better future for themselves than what their ancestors had.”

Premier John Horgan called the attack “reprehensible,” and “disturbing to all British Columbians.”

Mr. Horgan said his thoughts are with “the workers who were traumatized by this attack and with the RCMP officer who was injured.”

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson denounced the “violent attack.”

“We respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest in Canada; that does not include violence and intimidation,” he said.

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