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Indigenous Affairs
BC Politics

Horgan Won’t Meet Wet’suwet’en on Northern Tour

Premier rejects hereditary chiefs' call for talks on pipeline as tensions rise.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 16 Jan 2020 |

Amanda Follett Hosgood lives and writes amidst the stunning mountains and rivers of Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

Premier John Horgan has no plans to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting a gas pipeline during a northern B.C. tour this week.

Horgan is scheduled to attend a BC NDP fundraising dinner this evening in Terrace. A second event planned for Saturday in Fraser Lake, 400 kilometres to the east, was cancelled Tuesday.

In a Facebook post, the village’s mayor, Sarrah Nahornoff-Storey, said Horgan would still be visiting the community, but that the public event had been cancelled due to security concerns.

“Those that have threatened and made this not an enjoyable event from other areas are to blame for this event not being public now,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

A statement from the premier’s office said the rest of Horgan’s visit to the north is still being worked out, but he “will be stopping in a variety of communities.”

But Horgan will not meet the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to discuss their opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline during his tour, the statement said.

“Regarding the CGL project, the B.C. Supreme Court was clear that the company is lawfully permitted to conduct their work in the area,” its email stated. “The Province of B.C. is not in a position to negotiate about the application of a court injunction or enforcement of that injunction. Those are the jurisdiction of the courts and the police.”

The statement reiterates comments Horgan made Monday shortly before RCMP closed access to Wet’suwet’en protest camps along the Morice forestry road.

“This project is proceeding, and the rule of law needs to prevail in B.C.,” he told reporters.

Last week, the hereditary chiefs called on provincial decision makers to meet with them in government-to-government talks about the pipeline.

On Wednesday Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks said letters to the federal and provincial governments requesting meetings “on a nation-to-nation basis” had received no response.

“We have been asking the premier to meet with us since the beginning of this conflict,” Chief Na’Moks said in a news release. “Premier Horgan has a responsibility and a moral obligation to come to the table. He shouldn’t be hiding behind the RCMP or the company. He should be talking to us directly about how we can work together to protect our lands and maintain public safety.”

Horgan’s trip comes as tensions are rising on the Morice West Forest Service Road south of Smithers. The RCMP set up a checkpoint Monday and were restricting access to media and Wet’suwet’en supporters bringing supplies to three camps farther along the road.

Two of the camps, on Gidimt’en clan and Unist’ot’en house group territories, were blocking workers with Coastal GasLink from accessing the right-of-way for a pipeline to carry gas to an LNG plant in Kitimat.

The RCMP has been involved since last January, when officers enforced an interim injunction and forcibly removed barricades.

On Dec. 31, the B.C. Supreme Court granted CGL a permanent injunction, allowing the company access until the project is complete. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs responded by evicting CGL from the area on Jan. 4 and closing the Morice forestry road at kilometre 39, where a third camp has been erected.

On Wednesday, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, BC Civil Liberties Association, BC Government and Service Employees’ Union and Margot Young from the UBC Allard School of Law held a joint press conference to support the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and address the premier’s comments.

Harsha Walia, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said the injunction doesn’t necessarily override a previous Supreme Court of Canada decision upholding Wet’suwet’en law and jurisdiction, or Indigenous legal systems affirmed under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“There are multiple legal systems that need to be taken into account,” she said. “The Wet’suwet’en would maintain, and I think we would affirm here on the panel, that the rule of law that is being upheld is Wet’suwet’en law, at the moment. When the five Hereditary Chiefs said that the court injunction doesn’t apply, that is also a legal system that is being affirmed.”

The BCCLA announced that it is filing complaints on behalf of Delee Alexis Nikal and Cody Thomas Merriman with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. Nikal and Merriman were separately bringing food and emergency supplies to camps on the Morice when they were denied access Monday.

“They stayed there because they were particularly worried about people at Gidimt’en camp who were lawfully and peacefully asserting their presence on their territories not having food and winter supplies that they critically needed to have on site,” Walia said.

“In the view of the BCCLA, the RCMP exclusion zone is arbitrary, excessive, impunitive and a violation of Charter rights that cannot be violated with such ease and at the discretion of the RCMP,” she said. “The RCMP is claiming broad and vague powers of public safety despite no stated or identifiable threat. Rather the exclusion zone places Wet’suwet’en people at risk and their safety at risk by controlling their access to food, medical supplies and emergency equipment.”

RCMP responded Wednesday with a statement blaming “miscommunication” for media and supporters being turned away from the checkpoint and saying the area was not an exclusion zone.

But when The Tyee was turned away at the checkpoint Monday evening, officers said the area was an exclusion zone.

UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip denounced the police presence at Wednesday’s news conference.

“It’s just absolutely reckless and irresponsible and may cause serious injury or loss of life. We absolutely need to understand that. We need space and time.”

Phillip was asked whether the Wet’suwet’en had veto power over the project based on the province’s recent commitment to accept UNDRIP.

“The last statement of veto I heard in the Province of British Columbia was made by Premier Horgan a couple days ago when he said unequivocally that the Coastal GasLink pipeline will go through when in fact there’s a duty in law for not only consultation, but free, prior and informed consent of the entire Wet’suwet’en nation,” he said.  [Tyee]

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