First Nations members arrested at a checkpoint meant to keep natural gas pipeline workers off their traditional territory say the RCMP’s response was excessive.
Fourteen people were arrested Monday at the Gitdumt’en camp, one of two checkpoints set up south of Houston, B.C. by Wet’suwet’en First Nation opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline that would connect the Peace region with a future LNG plant in Kitimat.
Police were enforcing an interim injunction issued by the B.C. Supreme Court in December preventing anyone from interfering with the gas company’s work.
On Thursday, a number of the campers were released after appearing in a Prince George court.
“Everybody is dealing with the outfall of the arrests and the events that happened. So people aren’t sleeping well,” said Molly Wickham, one of the self-described land protectors manning the checkpoints.
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A number of those arrested accused the police of using excessive force to break up what they insist was a peaceful camp.
“I saw the RCMP coming over the gate coming decked out in full camouflage tactical gear with assault rifles, they were so over-equipped that there was some confusion of whether or not the military was there,” said Liam Moore.
“I saw up to four, five six officers with assault riffles very aggressively take people down who were not resisting arrest, throw them to the snow, grinding their faces into the snow with their knees in the back of necks, just really a lot of abuse. Just really a lot of abuse towards elderly people who were there.”
Others claimed the tools police used to dismantle the blockade were themselves inherently dangerous, and used without regard to the camp members’ safety.
“They used wire cutters and bolt cutters to smash their way through the gates, which they did,” said Kat Roivas.
“And there was two people locked down to the front of the gates while they were wielding their chainsaws and cutting implements. The people who were locked to the gate had a good chance of being hurt.”
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“Under the law, the RCMP may use reasonable force in the circumstances to implement the court’s order. This may include the use of physical restraint and arrests for people who have exceeded the courts limits of a peaceful, lawful and safe protest,” she said.
Saunderson said one of the people arrested was examined by paramedics for complaints of a minor injury, and that one officer was also hurt after being hit with a stick.
“I do know that the actions of our officers were well documented through multiple video sources that include media, the protesters and RCMP cameras,” she said.
“In fact, we ourselves have seen traditional and social media coverage of the incident, which clearly opposes some allegations made to you.”
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also faced questions about the handling of the camps on Wednesday, while in Kamloops.
“I know that there will be questions asked and required to answer over the coming weeks about what exactly was done, what could have been done differently,” said Trudeau.
“We are in a time of figuring out how to do something new, which is to make sure that when we build projects we are properly engaging, listening to and working with everyone who will be affected by that.”
That answer will likely be unsatisfying to members of the Wet’suwet’en who insist that their own laws and the Supreme Court of Canada have affirmed that rights and title over their traditional territory fall to their hereditary chiefs, who have not consented to the pipeline project.
“Our fight and our struggle to protect our territory is far from over. They can throw us in jail, they can try to make agreements, they can do whatever they can do to make themselves look good to the public, but I feel like the public is very aware of what is going on,” said Wickham.
“We have been firm and we continue to be firm that no pipelines will cross Wet’suwet’en territory.”