First Nations groups in B.C.’s northwest say they believe police are preparing to enforce an injunction against an anti-LNG pipeline protest camp south of Houston.
Local residents have reported dozens of RCMP vehicles in the area and that Houston and Smithers motels are hosting large numbers of RCMP officers.
“The RCMP’s ultimatum, to allow TransCanada access to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory or face police invasion, is an act of war.”
The dispute centres around the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline project, which is intended to convey liquefied natural gas from fracking projects in the Peace Region to the future $40 billion LNG Canada plant in Kitimat.
The pipeline route travels through Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory, and the nation’s elected leaders signed a benefits agreement with the province for Coastal GasLink in 2014.
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However, some Wet’suwet’en oppose the development and have established a years-long camp, known as Unist’ot’en, blockading the Morice River Bridge.
In December, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of Coastal GasLink, granting an injunction against demonstrators occupying the area around the bridge.
The order has since been expanded to include the Morice West Forest Service Road, where other Wet’suwet’en demonstrators have set up a second checkpoint known as the Gitdumt’en access point.
The protesters assert that the project is infringing Aboriginal title, citing the 1997 Delgamuukw Supreme Court of Canada ruling. The court found that the Wet’suwet’en had not given up title to 22,000 square km of territory, and demonstrators say those rights are represented by their hereditary chiefs.
Its not clear when the police may move.
The RCMP issued a media release Sunday morning affirming its role in enforcing the injunction order, and stating that police had been in dialogue with the camp in recent months about possible enforcement.
“We would like to emphasize that the RCMP respects the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing,” states the release.
“Should enforcement take place, the RCMP will be prepared to ensure the safety of everyone involved — demonstrators, police officers, area residents, motorists, media and general public.”
Late Sunday, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs issued a media release saying it was “concerned about the safety of Wet’suwet’en land defenders.”
“We strongly condemn the RCMP’s use of intimidation, harassment, and ongoing threats of forceful intervention and removal of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip in a statement.
“The RCMP’s actions are in direct contradiction to both government’s stated commitments to true reconciliation and to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.”