B.C. Premier John Horgan says he is expecting a “peaceful resolution” to the ongoing protest by the Wet’suwet’en First Nation against the construction of a pipeline in northern B.C.
Speaking for the first time since the RCMP arrested anti-pipeline protesters, Horgan told reporters on Wednesday that he hopes this issue doesn’t lead to violence.
“It is my hope and expectation that everyone is focused on a peaceful resolution to the impasse,” Horgan said.
“It is my expectation that the RCMP will conduct themselves with the greatest of care to ensure that those in the territories’ rights are respected.”
The dispute is about a blockade set up to stop the construction of a natural gas pipeline. The Coastal GasLink pipeline is set to end in Kitimat to support the LNG Canada facility, which is in the early stages of construction.
Members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had previously set up a camp and checkpoint southwest of Houston, B.C., blocking a forest service road and preventing Coastal GasLink from accessing its pipeline right-of-way in the First Nation territory.
“People are responsible for their actions. They have every right to object. That is a fundamental principle in B.C., in Canada,” Horgan said. “If they are breaking the law, there will be consequences to that, and that is why 14 people were arrested.”
WATCH: Premier John Horgan on LNG Canada’s obligations with the pipeline
There have been large rallies across the province in support of protests by members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. The RCMP says officers arrested 14 people Monday evening for allegedly violating the conditions of an interim court injunction that required the removal of a blockade on a forest service road that is preventing access to the pipeline project.
Horgan says he spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday about the impasse. Central to the dispute is the federally and provincially approved and supported LNG Canada project. Horgan says he expects the project to continue and that the company did everything required to get First Nation support.
“It is my view that LNG Canada has shown they understand the importance of consultation and meaningful reconciliation with First Nations, and that is why they have signed agreements with every First Nation along the corridor,” Horgan said.
“This project represents great opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike, but it also recognizes and highlights the challenges of reconciliation. There is no quick fix to resolving issues that date back to 1876.”
LNG Canada obtained agreement from all 20 elected First Nations councils along the pipeline route. But the Wet’suwet’en First Nation also has hereditary chiefs, and some of those chiefs oppose the LNG project and pipeline construction.
“It is our view that the process has concluded but that is not the end of discussion and dialogue,” Horgan said.
In a statement, Coastal GasLink president Rick Gateman said the company appreciated Horgan’s commitment to a peaceful solution to a “challenging situation,” but reiterated that the project was fully permitted and had the support of all 20 elected Indigenous bands along the pipeline’s route.
“Coastal GasLink has undergone extensive environmental assessment, including consultations with First Nations in British Columbia. Development of our project will be conducted according to rigorous environmental standards, including the recognition of specific Indigenous values,” he said.
The provincial government says it is not up to them to choose how First Nations govern themselves. But Green Party MLA Adam Olsen says there is a lack of understanding over the way First Nations are governed.
“To me, there is still some authority being derived there by the heredity chiefs. That is the complexity. When you hear governments saying we have everyone on board, it’s all good, it’s actually more complex than that. It’s not all good,” Olsen said.
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.
In statements issued Monday, the RCMP say they arrived at the camp in northern B.C. around 11 a.m. that day. By 3 p.m., they entered the blockade after a meeting with a number of hereditary elders and Coastal GasLink failed to resolve the issue without police involvement.
On Tuesday, Coastal GasLink president Rick Gateman posted an open letter to British Columbians and First Nations.
“We took legal action as a last resort and only after six years of unsuccessful efforts to find a mutual solution,” he wrote. “We remain committed to keeping the lines of communication open.”
—With files from Amy Judd