Tensions rise after RCMP clear road of protesters as B.C. pipeline conflict continues

Police check out the blocked road leading to the Gidimt'en checkpoint near Houston B.C., on Thurs. Jan. 9, 2020. Mounties in northern B.C. say they are enforcing an injunction preventing protests from blockading an access road for about 500 people working on the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson. JF

The access road that has been blockaded by protesters since Sunday has been cleared and can now be used to bring water and other supplies to more than 500 pipeline workers, according to Coastal GasLink.

Mounties in northern B.C. said Thursday morning they were enforcing a court-ordered injunction barring protests from blocking the access road used by the pipeline workers.

Coastal GasLink said in a Thursday update, it has been told the road is not yet secured for public travel.

Read more: RCMP prepare to ‘rescue’ B.C. pipeline workers as blockade stops flow of critical supplies

Houston RCMP have not confirmed if arrests were made during the enforcement on unceded Indigenous land.

In a video statement, however, a spokesperson for First Nations and environmental advocates who set up the blockade said officers read out the injunction order and then began arresting people.

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Hearing voices from along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route – Mar 5, 2020

The blockade was set up by members of the Gidimt’en clan, one of five in the Wet’suwet’en Nation, cutting off access for more than 500 pipeline workers.

The workers had been given eight hours’ notice to leave, the group said in a statement.

Gidimt’en spokesperson Sleydo’, whose also goes by the English name Molly Wickham, said about 15 people have been arrested for breaching the injunction — including two Wet’suwet’en elders — but no criminal charges have been laid.

She said the court-ordered injunction has no authority on their land.

Read more: Coastal GasLink, elected Wet’suwet’en council call for resolution to pipeline conflict

“They are trespassing, violating human rights, violating Indigenous rights and, most importantly, they are violating Wet’suwet’en law,” she said in another video shared earlier Thursday.

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If built, the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline would transport natural gas from northeastern B.C. to an liquid natural gas facility in coastal Kitimat, where it would be exported to global markets.

The project crosses unceded Wet’suwet’en Nation territory, and for years, many of its members, hereditary chiefs and allies have tried to stop its construction.

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On Wednesday, the elected Wet’suwet’en council said protesters didn’t consult them before blocking the road and their actions “can’t claim to represent the members of the Gidimt’en or any others in the First Nation.”

The Mounties were called in to assist as several hundred workers had been “illegally blocked in by the protesters, who have also been preventing essential supplies and services into the camp,” they said in a statement Thursday morning.

“We were hoping that a solution would be reached without the need for police enforcement, however, it has become very clear to us that our discretionary period has come to an end and the RCMP must now enforce the (court) orders.”

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Read more: TC Energy commits to up to $3.3B to cover Coastal GasLink cost increases

Chief Supt. John Brewer said RCMP have “serious concerns” with protesters cutting down trees, vandalizing heavy machinery and damaging the forest service road in an effort to prevent industry and police from getting through.

The dispute over the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline flared previously in 2019 and 2020, and protesters who defied the court injunction were arrested.

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Kahnawake protesters halt small construction project on unceded land near Mercier bridge – Oct 4, 2021

Opposition to the pipeline among Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at the time sparked solidarity rallies and rail blockades across Canada last year. The elected chief and council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others in the area had approved the project.

Since then, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the federal and provincial governments and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, easing tensions up until now.

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Read more: B.C. First Nation says it will protect land after arrests involving Coastal GasLink

The RCMP said they have set up an access control point on the Morice Forest Service Road to prevent further escalation of the situation and to mitigate safety concerns.

Jennifer Wickham, media co-ordinator for the Gidimt’en checkpoint, said chartered planes with RCMP officers had been arriving over the past two days and a number of arrests have been made so far, including two Wet’suwet’en elders.

“I think it’s absolutely crazy that they are sending all these RCMP up north right now when there’s a state of emergency in the province,” she said in an interview.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

With files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey

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