The B.C. RCMP confirms it has opened a criminal investigation into potentially dangerous obstructions set up at a barricade against a natural gas pipeline through northern B.C.
It’s the latest development in the standoff between Indigenous opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the company.
RCMP said Wednesday that they had discovered multiple felled trees along the Morice West Forest Service Road near Houston, used by company crews to access a work site.
They also found a number of danger trees that were partially cut in readiness for felling that could topple in high wind, along with stacked tires under tarps covering flammable liquids, kindling, and bags of fuel-soaked rags.
“That prompted them to look a little deeper and the investigation is continuing,” said spokesperson Cpl. Madonna Saunderson.
The actions come after Coastal GasLink posted a 72-hour notice related to a B.C. Supreme Court injunction ordering pipeline opponents to clear the way towards a critical work site.
Wet’suwet’en opponents say the order has no authority, and say that under Wet’suwet’en law, only hereditary chiefs can give consent to the $6.6-billion project that would connect gas fields in northeastern B.C. with the planned LNG Canada export plant in Kitimat.
“Coastal GasLink has no right to talk to us. They can demand all they want,” said Chief 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 nation.
Cody Merriman is one of the Wet’suwet’en pipeline opponents digging in at a support camp near the Gidimt’en checkpoint nearby.
He told Global News the dispute is a microcosm of the way modern British Columbia interacts with its First Nations people.
“This is not just being against a pipeline, this is an example of the province’s relationship with Indigenous people. They’re trying to uphold this company while they neglect hereditary chiefs,” he said.
“You can’t speak about reconciliation while ignoring the traditional governments of these lands.”
The Wet’suwet’en have rejected appeals for a face-to-face meeting with Coastal GasLink, saying instead that they want to meet directly with the province and federal government.
But the dispute highlights another division, this one among First Nations communities themselves.
Not all Indigenous people in the area oppose the project. All 20 elected First Nations councils along the pipeline route have signed on to the project.
Gary Naziel, a former Wet’suwet’en First Nation elected councillor, said the project could bring a much-needed economic boon to his people.
“The reason why we wanted this pipeline to go through is it will bring funds to our membership that we really need,” he said.
For the time being, the standoff remains a stalemate.
The RCMP, which was heavily criticized for its actions dismantling a blockade of the same project last January, has not given any indication when or if it plans to enforce the injunction.
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