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Pipeline divides community as Coastal GasLink prepares to resume work in B.C.

Pipeline battle splits Wet’suwet’en community
WATCH: The debate over who speaks for the Wet'suwet'en community in the battle over the Coastal GasLink pipeline has split communities, and in some cases, families. Sarah MacDonald reports.

Coastal GasLink is preparing to resume construction of a contentious natural gas pipeline through northern B.C. this week, but the long-running dispute has left a division as bitter as ever.

That division isn’t just between the company and Indigenous opponents but also within the Wet’suwet’en community itself.

Philip Tait is one of the Wet’suwet’en members hoping a job with the project will mean a good paycheque for his family.

“Right now, this is probably got one of the biggest job creations in the province here, and we want to be part of it,” he said.

“The hereditary chiefs’ office, they don’t speak for the whole clan.”

Wet’suwet’en members like Bonnie George, a former Coastal GasLink employee herself, say they want to see the pipeline built because of the economic benefits it will bring to the community.

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RCMP make final push to clear northern B.C. anti-pipeline camp
RCMP make final push to clear northern B.C. anti-pipeline camp

“A majority of our Wet’suwet’en people do want to see this project go through. The reason why it’s not out there is because people are afraid to speak up, but that’s starting to change,” George told Global News over the weekend.

“If we become sustained through economic development, we can offer services to off-reserve people as well and they can have the same opportunities as people on reserve.”

READ MORE: ‘We’re not giving up’ — Wet’suwet’en rally as RCMP move into main camp near pipeline worksite

But others in the community like Carmen Nikal, who described herself as an adopted member of the Gidimt’en clan, argued that the division in the community was driven by people being forced to choose between poverty and the fossil fuel industry.

RCMP investigating after bridge sabotage and mischief in northern B.C. pipeline exclusion zone
RCMP investigating after bridge sabotage and mischief in northern B.C. pipeline exclusion zone

“I’ve not heard anyone who says, ‘I love this pipeline, I’m so happy it’s going ahead,'” she said. “What people have said is, ‘I want the job, I want a good-paying job,’ regardless of the fact that the jobs are not going to be long term, they’re not going to help the environment.

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“They’ve got car payments, they’ve got truck payments, they’ve got children to feed. I empathize with those people because they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

READ MORE: 11 more arrests made as RCMP expand enforcement area for Wet’suwet’en pipeline opponents

On Tuesday, Coastal GasLink said it would restart pipeline construction this week but that it would “redouble efforts” to engage with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

The company added it would adhere to an access protocol, including speed control and advanced notice of arrival, for the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre, which the route to its worksite traverses.

In the meantime, the RCMP’s exclusion zone and access control checkpoint remain in place.

Tuesday was court day in Smithers for the seven people arrested in Wet’suwet’en traditional territory Monday as police completed enforcement of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction clearing way for a natural gas pipeline.

In total, police arrested 28 people over the course of the five-day enforcement, though six were released without charge.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en solidarity protesters block entrance to B.C. legislature ahead of throne speech

In the process of enforcing the injunction, which made way for crews building the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline, RCMP implemented a controversial “exclusion zone” that fluctuated in size and boundary day by day.

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Martin Peters, lawyer for 21 of the arrestees, argued that measure was itself unlawful.

Demonstrators expected to disrupt Throne Speech
Demonstrators expected to disrupt Throne Speech

“It’s important to understand the injunction the police think they’re enforcing doesn’t mention an exclusion zone, and exclusion zone is not an entity known in Canadian law,” said Peters.

“What police are doing is making up the law and then applying the law they have made up and arresting people.”

READ MORE: 7 arrested as RCMP clear final blockade on route of northern B.C. gas pipeline

Coastal GasLink has signed benefits agreements with 20 elected Indigenous councils along the route, but hereditary chiefs claim authority over rights and title on unceded territory.

— With files from Sarah MacDonald

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