RCMP officers have arrested four people as they moved to remove a second Wet’suwet’en camp opposing a gas pipeline on the nation’s traditional territories.
More than 40 officers arrived at the Gidimt’en camp at kilometre 44 on the Morice West Forest Service Road in two helicopters and a dozen police vehicles this morning, according to radio messages to the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre at kilometre 66, where The Tyee is monitoring developments.
People at the Gidimt’en camp said the RCMP force included tactical squad officers armed with rifles.
RCMP used bulldozers to clear snow and obstacles from the road. They then used chainsaws and an excavator to remove a metal gate and wooden barricades blocking access to the camp and entered shortly after noon.
But RCMP efforts to arrest the campers quickly hit barriers, with supporters in the camp spread between a cabin, a school bus and a 10-metre-high lookout tower.
Officers initially arrested two people in the school bus. They then used ladders to climb the tower, which had been built over the bus, and removed two people from the lookout using ropes and harnesses.
“It seems like it’s the last transmission that we’re going to hear from the tower,” a supporter in the cabin radioed as the third and fourth arrests were made.
RCMP remained outside the cabin at publication. Pipeline opponents say occupying the cabin does not breach a Dec. 31 injunction barring anyone from obstructing Coastal GasLink pipeline company access to its worksites on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory. Police have told them to leave or face criminal charges of obstruction.
The police face more hurdles as darkness sets in. According to the Twitter feed of the Unist’ot’en camp, more than 20 Wet’suwet’en and supporter vehicles have gathered at kilometre 27, where the RCMP have a checkpoint. The vehicles are “effectively blockading the exit route” police need to leave the territory with those who have been arrested.
“They’re holding a ceremony and ensuring the safety of those arrested,” the camp said on Twitter.
The first officers to approach the camp were greeted by Eve Saint, daughter of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Woos, who was holding an eagle feather.
“You are not welcome here!” she called out. “This is Wet’suwet’en territory! We are unarmed. We are peaceful... You are invaders!”
Ricochet Media’s Jerome Turner is in the camp and has been reporting on the police action. The Tyee is at the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre camp another 22 kilometres along the road, the next target of RCMP enforcement.
The RCMP launched a major operation to enforce the injunction Thursday with a predawn raid on the first Wet’suwet’en camp at kilometre 39 on the road. Police arrested six people and dismantled tents at the scene. Those arrested were later released without being charged.
Officers approaching the Gidimt’en camp today faced a steeper challenge.
A gate barred entry to the Lamprey Creek bridge outside the camp. Beyond the gate, police had to remove a barricade of more than a dozen vertical logs, which have been sharpened like giant pencils.
The school bus, with “Gidimt’en 44 Forever” spray painted on the side, blocked the road.
The camp was the scene of RCMP action to enforce an earlier injunction on Jan. 7, 2019, that resulted in 14 arrests. The charges were later dropped.
At the Unist’ot’en camp, land defenders and supporters followed the RCMP actions via radio calls, as some posted updates to social media.
Some group members sang traditional songs and drummed.
“The matriarchs are drumming for you all,” one supporter told the land defenders facing imminent arrest down the road. “We love you.”
Those in the camp know they will be next to face arrest.
Freda Huson, healing centre director and Unist’ot’en spokesperson, said she’s ready for the RCMP’s arrival.
“I’ve been dealing with bullies all my life. When I was young, I stuck up for the weaker ones,” she says. “I’m still dealing with bullies.”
Tensions have been rising since Dec. 31 when Coastal GasLink obtained an injunction giving it access to work sites for its $6.6-billion pipeline, which will carry gas from the province’s northeast to an LNG plant in Kitimat.
The project has received support from some Wet’suwet’en elected councils, but hereditary chiefs are fighting to block the project from their traditional territories.
On Jan. 4, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs evicted pipeline workers and closed the Morice forestry road at kilometre 39.
The RCMP have established a “full exclusion zone” barring entry to the area, “with some exceptions for Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and Elected Council members by arrangement with the Senior Commander.”