A police officer was injured in what RCMP in northern British Columbia described as a “violent confrontation” between unknown attackers and Coastal GasLink pipeline workers.
Houston RCMP said security officials with the company reported “acts of violence” by masked attackers at their worksite by the Marten Forest Service Road early Thursday morning.
A police news release said about 20 people, “some armed with axes, were attacking security guards and smashing their vehicle windows.” All Coastal GasLink staff were able to leave the area safely, police said.
Officers arrived at the 41-kilometre mark on the road to find it blocked with trees, tar-covered stumps, wire, spiked boards, and some debris on fire.
“As police worked their way through the debris and traps, several people threw smoke bombs and fire-lit sticks at the police, injuring one officer,” Houston RCMP said.
At the 43-kilometre mark, police said an old school bus blocked the road, but it was eventually cleared. At the 63-kilometre mark, they said they found “significant damage” to heavy machinery, fencing and portable buildings.
No one has been arrested and police have not identified potential suspects, Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said in an interview.
“Certainly this is very troubling, an escalation in violent criminal activity. It could have resulted in serious injury or even death,” she said.
“We believe this to be a calculated and organized violent attack, and the victims have been left shaken and traumatized, and certainly a multi-million dollar path of destruction had occurred.”
Global News has reached out to the Gidimt’en Checkpoint for comment. Members of the checkpoint have previously set up and maintained a blockade cutting off access to Coastal GasLink sites for more than 500 pipeline workers.
The Gidimt’en Clan, one of five in Wet’suwet’en Nation, has said advance notice is provided to Coastal GasLink every time it plans to enforce an eviction, and in a previous video statement, Cas Yikh Chief Dini’ze Woos said those opposing the project “mean no harm to anyone,” and he was “sorry” that pipeline workers have been caught in the middle of the tension because of their place of employment.
If built, the 670-kilometre pipeline would transport natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a liquefied 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.
Concerned for the safety of ecosystems and sovereignty over their land, they say the project is “illegal” under its laws — the only ones they recognize on their territory.
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The nation’s elected council and other First Nations nearby, however, have agreed to the project.
Police enforcement of the court-ordered injunction that stops opponents from impeding access to Coastal GasLink’s activities, which are permitted under Canadian law, has been heavily criticized and scrutinized.
The injunction was first granted in December 2019.
Since then, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has repeatedly raised concerns that continued work on the pipeline violates the First Nations’ right to “free prior and informed consent,” as per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In November 2021, RCMP arrested and held two journalists who were reporting on the subject. The charges of civil contempt of court against photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano were later dropped.
Between Nov. 14 and 15, videos showed RCMP arresting and removing unarmed Indigenous people from their land at gunpoint, as they sought to evict Coastal GasLink workers from Wet’suwet’en land.
Asked Thursday about RCMP conduct on Wet’suwet’en territory, and the fear and violence experienced by many First Nations people who have taken a stand against the project, Saunderson said she could not speak to the matter without more information.
“Certainly I would just speak to the release that we put out today,” she said.
In its own release on Thursday, Coastal GasLink said its workers have been left shaken after a “highly-planned and dangerous unprovoked assault.” The company claimed an attempt was made to set a vehicle on fire while workers were still inside.
“The attackers also wielded axes, swinging them at vehicles and through a truck’s window. Flare guns were also fired at workers,” the company said on its website.
The company also said work is underway to contain the environmental damage caused in the attack, as equipment hydraulic and fuel lines were cut, causing leaks.
In a public statement, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth condemned the “violence and destruction” perpetrated near the Morice River drill pad site.
“All workers deserve to be protected from harassment and harm,” he said. “This destructive attack should be condemned by all in British Columbia.”
Federal Minister of Natural Resources and North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson also took to Twitter to condemn the incident.
“Our government denounces the violent acts that took place on the Marten Forest Service Road near Houston, BC last night,” he wrote.
“We respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest in Canada; that does not include violence and intimidation.”
The Coastal GasLink project is more than 50-per-cent complete, and the company said it has signed agreements with all 20 elected “Indigenous groups” along the pipeline route.
– with files from The Canadian Press