The RCMP is investigating an alleged attack on a natural gas pipeline work camp in northern B.C. saying they’ve yet to identify suspects, and are not linking the incident to prior protests in the area.
Police say the “violent confrontation” between 20 camouflage-clad, unknown individuals and employees of Coastal GasLink (GGL) took place early Thursday morning on the Marten Forest Service Road.
The group, who police claim carried axes and torches, allegedly used grinders to cut the locks off a gate, then proceeded to cause an estimated $6 million in damage to equipment and structures at the pipeline worksite.
Asked Saturday if police had suspects in mind, RCMP Staff Sgt. Sasha Baldinger said “at this point we don’t know.”
“Although there has been confrontations in the past and there has been active protest in the area, at this point we have no linkages to those events and this current event,” he said.
“We have spoken to several people out in the area, and have asked them if they are OK, if they needed any assistance because of this event, if they had been threatened or if they actually had any information to provide to us.”
The area near Houston, B.C., has been a flashpoint for several years between CGL and Wet’suwet’en First Nations people opposed to the development that they say does not have their consent, and therefore the right to proceed under Indigenous law.
While the company claims the support of 20 elected Indigenous groups along the 670-kilometre route from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat, it has been vocally opposed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
“We simply do not have enough information to make any comments,” Hereditary Chief Na’moks, also known as John Risdale, told Global News on Saturday.
“All we know is no arrests or charges, and harassment of our camps continue.”
Global News has made multiple attempts to contact members of the Gidimt’en Checkpoint, which has spearheaded previous blockades preventing access to the site, despite a 2019 B.C. Supreme Court injunction permitting GGL workers access to the area.
The Gidimt’en Clan, one of five in Wet’suwet’en Nation, has previously said advance notice is provided to Coastal GasLink every time it plans to enforce an eviction.
Global News visited the site Saturday to document the damage. Police allege the suspects commandeered Coastal GasLink equipment and then used it to destroy or damage other property.
Investigators were actively reviewing security video, he said. No video has been made available to media.
Asked how the suspects were able to disappear, apparently without a trace, Baldinger said police suspect they used a network of nearby trails and darkness to evade police. He said officers were also hampered by traps the suspects allegedly set in the area.
Police say one officer was injured in the incident, and that pipeline workers were left fearing for their safety.
Wet’suwet’en project opponents maintain support from for the project from elected band councils is meaningless, as those councils are colonial creations, and only have authority under the Indian Act over on-reserve matters.
The hereditary chiefs point to the Supreme Court of Canada’s acknowledgment of unextinguished Wet’suwet’en rights and title and the validity of pre-colonial forms of government in their claim of full authority over land-related issues on their traditional territories.
Others within the nation, however, have been vocally supportive of the project.
The area has been the subject of several highly controversial RCMP actions to enforce the injunction in recent years. They have involved well-armed tactical units removing blockaders.
In November, RCMP arrested and held two journalists who were reporting from the site; charges of civil contempt of court against both were later dropped.
— with files from Emad Agahi