Editor’s note: This story originally said the pipeline would carry natural gas. During the editing process, it was incorrectly changed to say the pipeline will carry liquid natural gas. The story has been updated to state the author’s original information. We regret the error.
Amid rising tensions in northern B.C. – where Indigenous protesters are preventing a pipeline company from accessing an area in which it plans to work- dozens of people showed up at rallies in downtown Calgary and downtown Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon to show solidarity with members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
The pipeline would carry natural gas from B.C.’s Peace River region to the northern Pacific coast.
In addition to those who turned up in Calgary to show solidarity with protesters behind the blockade in B.C., about the same number of people turned up to voice support for pipelines. According to the Canadian Press, the pro-pipeline crowd was encouraged to come out by Canada Action, a Calgary-based lobbying group.
The pro-pipeline demonstrators chanted “build that pipe,” drowning out the voices of anti-pipeline protesters who started to loudly chant “consent” and “sovereignty.” While tensions boiled, police kept the groups separate, and there were no physical altercations.
On Monday evening, the RCMP said it had arrested 14 people for allegedly violating the conditions of an interim court injunction issued last month that requires the removal of a blockade to a forest service road in northern British Columbia.
The injunction gave protesters 72 hours to remove obstructions after they set up a camp and a checkpoint near Houston, B.C. The obstructions were keeping Coastal Gaslink Pipeline Ltd., a subsidiary of Calgary-based TransCanada Corp., from working in the area.
RCMP said officers arrived at the blockade late Monday morning and entered several hours later, after a meeting between the pipeline company and elders failed to produce a resolution.
Tuesday’s rally in Calgary was organized by a group called Calgary Social Change, and was held outside TransCanada Corp.’s headquarters. A similar rally took place in Edmonton late Tuesday afternoon.
In Alberta’s capital, over 100 people braved frigid temperatures to voice their concerns and hear speakers talk about the issues at play. Some protesters carried signs that read “RCMP out of Wet’suwet’en territory,” “Trudeau doesn’t give a f*** about Indigenous rights” and “Reconciliation not military occupation.”
“We are responding to and echoing a call on all people of conscience to act in solidarity through an international day of action on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019,” read a post on the Climate Justice Edmonton Facebook page. The group organized the rally in Alberta’s capital, along with a group called Indigenous Climate Action.
“The RCMP’s ultimatum to allow TransCanada access to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory or face police invasion is an act of war,” organizers of Tuesday’s Edmonton rally wrote in a Facebook post.
“Despite the lip service given to ‘Truth and Reconciliation,’ Canada is now attempting to do what it has always done – criminalize and use violence against Indigenous people so that their unceded homelands can be exploited for profit.
“We are now preparing for a protracted struggle.”
Marlene Poitras, the Assembly of First Nations’ regional chief for Alberta, was among those who attended the Edmonton rally. She said the AFN is meeting next week and will discuss the issue and issue a response.
“As a leader, I’m here to support the people,” she said. “One thing that I don’t condone is violence and the way that this situation (at the pipeline blockade in B.C.) is being handled is violent and it’s not the way to resolve any situation amicably.
“The people are protecting their traditional lands and they’re not being respected.”
Poitras said she thought the federal government intended to embark on a new era of dealing with Indigenous land rights with its new round of consultations on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. The current situation in northern B.C., however, “raises red flags,” she said.
“I’d like them (the government) to go and talk to the Wet’suwet’en leaders — the hereditary leaders — and try to come to some mutually beneficial situation in resolving this issue,” she said. “Because the violence that I’ve seen… through photos and social media, it’s very disheartening for me.”
In a news release issued on Sunday, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said all five Wet’suwet’en clans oppose the construction of oil and gas pipelines in their territory.
The pipeline that Coastal GasLink wants to build would carry natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to Kitimat.
According to the company, it has agreements in place with all First Nations along the route for LNG Canada’s $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in Kitimat.
However, the Canadian Press reports that demonstrators argue Wet’suwet’en house chiefs – who are hereditary, rather than elected – have not given consent.
The CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada, which represents oil- and gas-producing First Nations, was at Tuesday’s rally in Calgary to join the pro-pipeline crowd.
“It’s about getting out of poverty and finding a way for our people.”
–With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Amy Judd.