Four days into the RCMP’s enforcement of a court injunction against a group of Indigenous pipeline opponents in northern B.C., Wet’suwet’en members and chiefs are preparing for the worst.
Twenty-one arrests have been made since Thursday, when police first moved into a camp blockading the Morice West Forest Service Road near Houston, B.C.
Eleven of those arrests took place Saturday after RCMP moved a contentious access control checkpoint back by 23 kilometres, ordering those at the former “protest site” to leave.
On Sunday, the opponents and their supporters rallied at the new checkpoint at the four-kilometre mark while awaiting word on potential police action at the main camp and Unist’ot’en healing centre 62 kilometres away, which is near the disputed Coastal GasLink worksite.
“They have RCMP vehicles and machinery heading to the healing centre,” said Jennifer Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt’en clan that is part of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
Friday night saw RCMP move their checkpoint from the 27-kilometre camp over safety concerns, alleging nails and spikes had been strewn on the road with the intention of damaging police vehicles.
Chief Woos, one of the five hereditary chiefs opposing the project who remains in his cabin at the Gidimt’en checkpoint 40 kilometres from the new exclusion zone, says that’s not true.
“They’re lying, they’re planting those things and blaming us for damage and spreading falsehoods,” he said. “They’re making it up, they’re making us look bad to get us out.”
A criminal investigation has also been launched into the alleged cutting of support beams on the Lamprey Creek Bridge at the 66-kilometre mark, which the opponents say was done by RCMP.
Woos and his supporters allege RCMP officers have surrounded the cabin and are attempting to remove the chief from the area, only to eventually leave.
He says police are now “plowing” their way to the 66-kilometre mark to move people out of the healing centre and camp, which Wickham says RCMP has no right to do.
“They have no warrant, and it’s not blocking construction, so it’s not in violation” of the injunction, she said.
RCMP say no actions have been taken at the 66-kilometre mark, but could not speak to “future events.” No arrests have been reported Sunday.
However, opponents say they can count a large number of RCMP and Coastal GasLink vehicles that have converged between the 44-kilometre and 66-kilometre camps, including bulldozers, a dump truck and an ambulance.
Wickham says the rally at the access control checkpoint is meant as a show of force for RCMP as they continue to enforce the injunction.
“We’re not giving up,” she said. “They can continue to remove us violently, but we’re not going anywhere. We’re strong.”
Wickham says the 15 people arrested and charged with breaching the injunction between Friday and Saturday will be in court in Smithers on Monday. The four people arrested Thursday did not face charges.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in that courtroom tomorrow because they have no basis for the charges,” she said. “They weren’t obstructing, they were being removed from cabins that are off the road.”
Police set up a checkpoint at the 27-kilometre mark of the road in January, describing it as a safety measure after a number of trees were felled and flammable items were allegedly found on the route.
The checkpoint is facing legal challenges from the BC Civil Liberties Association and Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
By Friday, the trees allegedly felled by the opponents in order to block the access road were cleared, allowing construction of the pipeline to resume in earnest.
The $6.6-billion, 670-kilometre pipeline is intended to carry gas from northeastern B.C. to a massive LNG export plant being built near Kitimat, and would traverse unceded Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected Indigenous councils along the route, but opponents say only hereditary chiefs have authority over unceded territory to which they retain rights and title.