Tensions over a disputed Northern B.C. pipeline ratcheted up another notch on Monday, when RCMP moved to block the Morice West Service Road.
The remote forest service road leads to a key work site for the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project.
Police have given no indication if and when they plan to enforce an injunction issued by the B.C. Supreme Court late last month, asserting CGL’s right to continue work on the project.
In a statement posted Monday afternoon, police said B.C RCMP commander Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Stratchan had been “involved in a series of meetings that have taken place or are being scheduled with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, Elected Councils and other stakeholders.”
It also confirmed it had set up an “access control checkpoint” at the 27-kilometre mark of the forest service road “to mitigate safety concerns related to the hazardous items of fallen trees and tire piles with incendiary fluids along the roadway.”
Last week, opponents of the project allegedly felled a number of trees to disrupt access and left flammable materials piled in the road, prompting a police investigation.
Police say anyone passing the checkpoint will be given a copy of the injunction and be required to explain why they wish to enter the area. Chiefs, government officials, accredited journalists and people delivering food and medicine would generally be given access, police said.
However, members of the Unist’ot’en Camp claim officers have created an “exclusion zone,” were blocking food from entering the area, and had turned away at least one chief.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the dispute Monday, and said he felt it was best handled by the provincial government.
Premier John Horgan said Monday that the pipeline would get built despite Indigenous opposition, saying that it had legally earned all required permits and that the province respected the B.C. Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter.
On Sunday, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who assert authority over the territory the pipeline would transit, granted CGL workers one-day access so they could winterize a work site in an area blocked by the Unist’ot’en camp near Houston.
At an earlier meeting with RCMP, the chiefs also delivered directives to Mounties, including stating that police should refrain from enforcing the injunction until they can engage in nation-to-nation talks with the provincial and federal governments over their rights and title to the area.
CGL says it wants a peaceful solution to the impasse, and has asked to meet with Wet’suwet’en opponents. However, the hereditary chiefs say they want to deal with the provincial and federal governments.
Last Tuesday, the company posted the latest B.C. Supreme Court injunction against pipeline opponents at a checkpoint on the road, which included a 72-hour notice to remove obstructions.
The Wet’suwet’en chiefs issued eviction notices to Coastal GasLink workers last week as they continue to oppose the $6.6-billion project, which would connect gas fields in northeastern B.C. with the planned LNG Canada export plant in Kitimat.
The chiefs have never given consent to the company to construct the pipeline through their ancestral territory, and are citing Wet’suwet’en law that states only they have title rights over those lands.
However, all 20 elected First Nation band councils along the pipeline’s route have signed agreements with the company.