The RCMP say it has arrested 14 people Monday evening for allegedly violating the conditions of an interim court injunction requiring the removal of a blockade to a forest service road in northern British Columbia that is preventing access to a pipeline project.
The interim injunction issued by the B.C. Supreme Court in mid-December orders anyone who interferes with the Coastal GasLink project in and around the Morice River Bridge to remove any obstructions.
In statements issued today, the RCMP say they arrived on scene around 11 a.m. By 3 p.m., they entered the blockade, after a meeting with a number of hereditary elders and CGL failed to resolve the issue without police involvement.
By 6:45 p.m., they had made a number of arrests from the blockade set up by Gitdumt’en on Morice West Forest Service Road. RCMP also say they observed a number of fires being lit along the roadway by ‘unknown persons’, with large trees felled across the roadway.
In their statement, the RCMP dispute reports that they jammed communications in the area in order to prevent the media and public from communicating the unfolding situation to the outside world. They say the area is extremely remote, and even police had limited access to communication, other than their radios.
They also say reports that the Canadian Military were present are erroneous, saying they have deployed Tactical and Emergency Response Teams as part of their ‘measured and scalable approach to enforcing the court ordered injunction’.
RCMP say they set up a ‘temporary exclusion zone’, where the police do not allow access to anyone – media or otherwise – who is not part of the enforcement team.
The dispute centres around the GasLink pipeline project, which is intended to convey 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.
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.
LISTEN: The RCMP says it will enforce an injunction today against protesters in a remote area between Smithers and Houston, who are blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline:
This weekend, busloads of officers and several tactical units and vehicles were spotted in Houston and nearby Smithers, stoking fears of an imminent and forceful camp shut down.
RCMP say their first priority is safety but protesters say they are worried about what they call an “invasion.”
“It’s important for the government because they want the tax money coming in,” said Jeffery Brown, Chief Madeek, Head Chief of the Gidumt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
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The RCMP issued a media release Sunday morning affirming its role in enforcing the injunction, and stating that police have 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,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said 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.”
On Monday, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said enforcement action by the RCMP is an operational matter for the RCMP and is “entirely at arms length from government.”
“We recognize the right for people to engage in peaceful protest. In any situation such as this, we hope all parties find a safe and mutually respectful resolution.”
The Wet’suwet’en are seeing support from across Canada and a number of events are being planned by groups standing in solidarity with them. Those events start Tuesday in Victoria and Vancouver.
On Monday, TransCanada’s Toronto office was disrupted by people saying they were standing in solidarity with the people of the Wet’suwet’en Territory.
They dropped a banner reading “RCMP and TransCanada stay off Wet’suwet’en Territory.”
They were quickly escorted out by security.
“Wet’suwet’en Nation do not give Coastal GasLink consent to their territories. The Wet’suwet’en Nation is under Canada’s racist colonial attack. They are using violent RCMP tactical forces to rip Indigenous people off their own lands. This is not reconciliation to be violent towards Indigenous Peoples,” Eve Saint, Wet’suwet’en water protector said in a release.
Coastal GasLink says it consulted with hereditary chiefs for more than five years and secured 20 project agreements with elected First Nations councils all along the pipeline route.
“We understand that there are those that share different opinions so we want to continue to work with those individuals to find solutions,” Jacquelynn Benson of Coast GasLink said.
The company says seeking an injunction was a last resort.
—With files from Tanya Beja, Simon Little and The Canadian Press