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B.C First Nation chiefs demand halt to Coastal GasLink pipeline work amid COVID-19

Sections of pipe for the Coastal GasLink pipeline arrive near Kitimat, B.C., in December 2019.
Sections of pipe for the Coastal GasLink pipeline arrive near Kitimat, B.C., in December 2019. Coastal GasLink/Twitter

B.C. First Nations leaders are urging the provincial and federal governments to shut down construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, B.C. Premier John Horgan, and provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs says continued construction on the controversial project is increasing the risk of transmission.

Hearing voices from along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route
Hearing voices from along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route

“B.C. and Canadian health officials have urged the public to stay home….We urge you to tell Coastal GasLink to stay home,” the letter says.

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Under rules invoked by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, construction sites can remain open if proper physical distancing is maintained.

But the letter says B.C.’s definition of essential services is too broad.

READ MORE: What is an essential service? After groceries, it depends where you live in Canada

“The expansion of economic enterprises cannot be considered essential when it directly endangers the health and well-being of every one of us,” the letter reads.

“The threat is too great to northern communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, whose access to health care and necessary resources for containing COVID-19 are already limited.”

In a statement to Global News, Coastal GasLink said it is has taken several measures to curb the spread of novel coronavirus, including suspending travel and ordering all non-essential work to be done from home.

Hearing voices from along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route
Hearing voices from along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route

The company went on to say no new people are being introduced into work sites and only critical work, such as environmental monitoring, is being completed.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday that work camps throughout northern B.C. were in close contact with Northern Health.

Several large project such as the Site C Dam and the LNG Canada export plant in Kitimat have begun to scale back their workforce.

“I think it’s important to recognize you can’t just abandon a large mine or industrial site, that’s not safe, it’s not safe for the community or the environment either,” she said.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is one of many supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary chiefs, who oppose the natural gas pipeline because it runs through their traditional lands near Houston, B.C.

Wet’suwet’en elected chiefs, along with 20 other First Nations along the pipeline route, support the project.