The RCMP launched a pre-dawn raid today to remove at least one of three Wet’suwet’en pipeline protest camps along the Morice West Forest Service Road in northern B.C.
The news reached the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre camp at kilometre 66 just before 5 a.m., as the radio crackled with news of the police action.
The RCMP had moved against the Wet’suwet’en camp at kilometre 39, closest to the police checkpoint on the forest road set up Jan. 13, protesters here were told.
Soon after, another radio message said police had smashed a truck window to arrest a radio operator sending messages from the camp. There were no more calls directly from the camp.
The Unist’ot’en House Group is reporting six people were arrested and others — including journalists — detained.
The Wet’suwet’en camp was set up shortly after hereditary chiefs representing all five clans evicted the company building the Coastal GasLink pipeline from the territory on Jan. 4 and closed the road at kilometre 39.
Supporters soon gathered, camping in two wall tents and co-ordinating the shuttle of food and supplies to the camps farther along the road.
The RCMP said Wednesday afternoon that they would soon be moving to enforce a Dec. 31 injunction granting Coastal GasLink access to its pipeline construction sites in the territory.
“Police do not have the option of refusing to enforce injunctions,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs, in charge of criminal operations for the RCMP in B.C.
Stubbs said protesters should leave the area or face arrest. Police would use minimal force and allow people who agreed to voluntary arrest to walk from the area without handcuffs, he said.
If people resist, “our members will respond to the behaviours that are presented to them,” Stubbs said. Officers are instructed to use the least amount of force necessary, he added.
Beyond kilometre 39, RCMP will have to clear dozens of felled trees and several feet of snow before reaching Gidimt’en camp at kilometre 44.
But here at the Unist’ot’en camp another 20 kilometres along the forest road, land defenders received reports the RCMP was moving toward them with a convoy of 36 vehicles, including an ambulance, two bulldozers and one small excavator.
RCMP also announced the area beyond the police checkpoint would now be considered “a full exclusion zone.”
“The RCMP will not allow access to anyone who is not part of the enforcement team, with some exceptions for Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and Elected Council members by arrangement with the Senior Commander,” a statement from the force said.
The purpose is to “temporarily create an area where police and Coastal GasLink work can safely operate to deploy heavy machinery and equipment needed to clear hazards and re-establish access as intended by the court,” the statement said.
Indigenous land defenders and their supporters staying at the camps have been on edge since talks between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the province aimed at resolving the standoff ended Tuesday afternoon without resolution.
Many of those in the camps were here on Jan. 7, 2019, when the RCMP enforced an earlier injunction at the Gidimt’en camp. Fourteen people were arrested, but all civil charges were later dropped.
Gidimt’en camp was established in December 2018 in support of the Unist’ot’en, a house group of the Wet’suwet’en, who have been occupying the land at kilometre 66 since 2010. The location next to the Morice River was chosen for its clean water, abundant wildlife and cultural significance.
Freda Huson, healing centre founder and spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en clan, began by holding culture camps at the site. The three-storey facility was built in 2015. Scheduled programming funded by First Nations Health Authority, including youth camps, women’s weekends, cultural workshops and language schools, has been suspended for the year.
As the centre braces for the RCMP’s arrival, Huson says she welcomes the opportunity to shed light on what is happening on her territory.
“Expose them. Expose their evilness into the light so people can see how evil Canada, the province and the RCMP really are,” she says. “I’ve been waiting for this day. The UN’s watching. The whole world is watching.”
This morning, supporters at kilometre 66 closed a gate, blocking access to the Morice River Bridge and healing centre just beyond.
Huson says they will hold a “cremation ceremony for reconciliation” when RCMP arrive and will be singing and ringing a bell to call on the ancestors.
“We have a gate for our safety,” she says. “We’ve seen the violence they brought last year.”