Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story attributed the eviction order to the Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation. In fact, the order was issued by a group of hereditary Wetʼsuwetʼen chiefs.
Members of a B.C. First Nation have served eviction notices to the company that wants to build a natural gas pipeline through their territory, despite a recent court ruling.
Hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people issued the notices Saturday night to Coastal GasLink for an area within their traditional territory near Houston, B.C.
The letter says workers are “currently trespassing” on its unceded territory.
“This notice is to inform you that all Coastal GasLink staff and contractors currently trespassing on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory must vacate our territory immediately,” the letter reads.
Jen Wickham, a spokeswoman for one of the five clans that make up the First Nation, told the Canadian Press workers and contractors complied with the notice.
At first, the workers were reluctant, said Na’Moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale and is the highest-ranking hereditary chief of Tsayu, one of the five clans that make up the First Nation.
He estimates it took workers between 90 minutes and two hours to leave.
A spokeswoman for Coastal GasLink, Suzanne Wilton, said in an email that “the only people on site Saturday were security staff.”
The company expects construction to resume this week after a holiday break, she wrote.
The planned pipeline would transport natural gas across 670 kilometres from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat.
Coastal GasLink has argued it received consent and signed agreements with the elected band councils of the Wet’suwet’en, who are set to receive financial compensation from the $6.6-billion project.
In a statement on its website, the company said the eviction notice “demanded that we remove our equipment from areas in which we are legally permitted to operate.”
The company also said it was notified on Jan. 3 by Unist’ot’en that the Indigenous group intends to terminate an access agreement effective Jan. 10.
Coastal GasLink’s workers also discovered felled trees early Sunday morning that make a road impassable, it said.
“While it is unclear who felled these trees, this action is a clear violation of the interlocutory injunction as it prevents our crews from accessing work areas,” it said in the statement.
On Dec. 31, the B.C. Supreme Court extended an injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others who oppose the pipeline.
In a statement Sunday, BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson called on the province’s forestry, lands and natural resources minister Doug Donaldson to resign, or for Premier John Horgan to fire him.
“Donaldson has consistently shown his support for the illegal blockades and actions against the Coastal GasLink project, completely ignoring the elected First Nations leadership, the RCMP, and the law,” Wilkinson said.
“The lack of leadership shown by John Horgan on this issue is a disappointment to the British Columbians who are being impacted by this ongoing conflict. When will he realize that he needs to govern for everyone in this province?”
The interlocutory injunction came with a new enforcement order for the RCMP, but the judge did not give instructions on how that order should be carried out.
The RCMP’s role in the conflict has been heavily scrutinized, with the protesters at the Gidimt’en checkpoint arguing officers used excessive force and were heavily armed when they moved into the camp last January.
Fourteen people were arrested after RCMP descended on the checkpoint to enforce an earlier interim injunction, in an operation that the First Nation has described as a “raid.”
Donaldson, who is the local MLA for Stikine, met with members of the blockade camp the day before the RCMP moved in.
A report in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, suggesting RCMP discussed deploying snipers and putting children into social services, was seized upon by the Wet’suwet’en people as proof of their claims.
After Public Safety Minister Bill Blair voiced his concerns about the report, the RCMP said the force has started a review of all documents relating to its enforcement of the injunction and has not found any that reflect the statements in the newspaper article.
The Gidimt’en is one of five clans of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, whose hereditary chiefs have never consented to the pipeline project.
The First Nation has said it anticipates further police action against the community in the wake of the latest court decision, but the RCMP have not said if or when it will enforce the injunction.
—With files from the Canadian Press