B.C. First Nation fighting northern gas pipeline awaits court decision on continuing injunction

Click to play video 'Justin Trudeau responds to question from Wet’suwet’en nation member' Justin Trudeau responds to question from Wet’suwet’en nation member
WATCH: (Aired Jan. 18) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, when questioned by a Wet'suwet'en member, that Canada needs to help bring Indigenous voices together when "seeking consent" for pipeline projects – Jan 18, 2019

A judge is set to rule soon on whether an interim injunction should continue against the Indigenous opponents of a natural gas pipeline that’s set to run through their land in northern B.C.

Lawyers representing Coastal GasLink and the Wet’suwet’en First Nation spent three days last week at B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George arguing for and against the pipeline, which is meant to run from northeastern B.C. to the planned LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat on the coast.

Freda Huson, a chief-appointed spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en house group that has been part of the legal fight, said no date has been set yet for the judge to return with a decision.

WATCH: (Aired Jan. 10) B.C. First Nation reacts to RCMP enforcement of blockade

Click to play video 'First Nations anti-pipeline blockade over for now' First Nations anti-pipeline blockade over for now
First Nations anti-pipeline blockade over for now – Jan 10, 2019

“We understand there needs to be time for the judge to go over our arguments and the company’s arguments, which could take a while,” she said Sunday.

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“We feel like we’ve made our arguments clear. This pipeline runs through our sacred lands, which we will continue to defend.”

The Unist’ot’en is part of one of the three Wet’suwet’en clans that have set up camps on traditional lands the Coastal GasLink project is meant to travel through, blocking workers from accessing sites where the pipeline is being built.

READ MORE: New First Nations camp planned to block natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.

The Unist’ot’en checkpoint was opened shortly after RCMP members descended on another camp set up by the Gidumt’en clan along a logging road to one of the work sites in January, arresting 14 people.

RCMP were enforcing the same interim injunction that is under review with this latest court case, which was first granted in December on behalf of Coastal GasLink and its parent TC Energy.

The action sparked protests in solidarity with the First Nation across Canada, with activists and celebrities in the U.S. also taking notice.

WATCH: (Aired Jan. 9) Anti-pipeline protesters vow to keep fighting in northern B.C.

Click to play video 'Anti-pipeline protesters vow to keep fighting in Northern BC' Anti-pipeline protesters vow to keep fighting in Northern BC
Anti-pipeline protesters vow to keep fighting in Northern BC – Jan 9, 2019

The Wet’suwet’en have argued Coastal GasLink did not get permission from their hereditary chiefs to access the traditional lands, leaving them no choice but to enforce Wet’suwet’en law to protect those lands.

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The company says it signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route, including the five Wet’suwet’en elected bands, who have different authorities and oversights than the hereditary chiefs.

READ MORE: Band councils, hereditary chiefs — here’s what to know about Indigenous governance

Lawyers for Coastal GasLink argued in court at the start of proceedings Wednesday that those agreements add up to a combined $338 million over 25 years.

An additional $620 million in contracts have also been awarded to First Nations, with a further $400 million to other companies.

Between the blockades and other stoppages linked to everything from the discovery of ancient Indigenous artifacts to animal traps, the company’s lawyer Kevin O’Callaghan argued the project is three months behind schedule.

READ MORE: Why did RCMP arrest 14 people at Wet’suwet’en Camp, and what happens next?

If the judge rules in Coastal GasLink’s favour, the injunction against the Wet’suwet’en would be extended to the end of 2021, when the project is scheduled to be completed.

Mainline construction is already planned to begin in 2020.

O’Callaghan added in court Wednesday that the company is working to understand the Wet’suwet’en’s traditional governance and determine who holds titles to the land, and urged the court “not to enter into that fray” when making its final decision.

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—With files from the Canadian Press