David Suzuki and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip are flying in to a remote area in British Columbia's Peace River Valley to offer support to a small group protesting construction of the Site C dam.
Mr. Suzuki, a globally recognized broadcaster and environmentalist, and Mr. Phillip, one of the province's most influential native leaders, are scheduled to drop in by helicopter Tuesday to visit a small group of protesters who have been camped out in minus-20 degree weather for weeks.
Their visit is intended to raise the profile of the protest, which is expected to intensify in the months ahead as BC Hydro increases its construction activity.
Until now only about a dozen protesters have been camped out in the valley, at the site of a historic fur-trading post known as Rocky Mountain Fort, and another 30 people have shown up with placards along construction access roads.
Three people were arrested last week after blocking truck traffic on the roads, but so far there have been no arrests at the Rocky Mountain Fort camp, which is located in the bush several kilometres from the nearest road.
Timber in the area needs to be cleared before spring if Site C construction is to stay on schedule.
The dam is being protested by Treaty 8 First Nations, who are arguing in court that it violates their treaty rights; by local ranchers and farmers who say the project will drown valuable agricultural land; and by environmentalists who say the Peace River Valley provides vital habitat for fish and wildlife. The B.C. government endorses the dam, saying it is necessary to meet the province's future power needs.
Mr. Phillip and Mr. Suzuki were in transit Monday and could not be reached for immediate comment, but both are outspoken critics of the $9-billion project.
Mr. Suzuki has said the dam will cause "alarming economic, social and environmental problems."
In a recent statement, Mr. Phillip said BC Hydro should halt the project until the First Nation court challenge is heard.
"We are absolutely outraged that BC Hydro is working at the proposed dam site when critical court proceedings are in motion and a [legal] decision on Site C proceeding has yet to be determined," he stated.
Mr. Phillip also said the recent arrests have made the situation more tense.
"We are deeply concerned that BC Hydro's actions are increasing tensions on the ground," said Mr. Phillip, who in November was arrested on Burnaby Mountain at a protest against the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion.
It is not expected that Mr. Suzuki or Mr. Phillip will put themselves in a position to be arrested Tuesday, but a spokesman for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said "they will be on the line" and anything could happen.
RCMP Corporal Dave Tyreman said the arrests last week occurred after protesters on an access road (not at the the Rocky Mountain Fort camp) left the roadside to block traffic.
Cpl. Tyreman said the RCMP are watching the situation but respect the rights of citizens to protest.
"It's up to us to monitor [the situation] for the coming months," he said. "We stand by. We are there to keep the peace and [we] encourage any democratic and lawful protests. And I repeat the words lawful protests."
Arthur Hadland, a former Peace River Regional District director who was among those arrested last week, said he acted out of frustration.
"It was a sad little experience," he said of being arrested after stepping into the road to block construction traffic. "I've tried all the letter writing and reasoning with politicians to no avail. I thought the only way we could get a little attention was to walk into the thoroughfare."
Mr. Hadland, who was arrested after signing a bond promising to keep the peace, said he hoped his arrest would draw public attention to the controversial project, which he says will damage the environment, drive BC Hydro deeper into debt and force higher power rates provincially.
BC Hydro was not immediately able to provide a spokesman to take questions on the Site C protests.