Fourteen people are in custody awaiting a bail hearing and supplies are flowing into Coastal GasLink work camps after an RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en territory Thursday.
About 50 police officers arrived at the Morice West Forest Service Road south of Houston, B.C., to clear the resource road after Wet’suwet’en members opposing the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline blocked access to two work camps.
About 500 workers at camps 9A Lodge and P2 Lodge had been cut off from services and supplies since Sunday, when Wet’suwet’en members and supporters used Coastal GasLink machinery to dig trenches through the road at several locations.
Remnants of fallen trees and twisted culverts could also been seen alongside the remote resource road, and a crumpled vehicle was removed from the Lamprey Creek bridge at Gidimt’en Camp.
By noon, several RCMP vehicles were seen leaving Gidimt’en Camp, 44 kilometres down the Morice road, with people in custody as heavy machinery worked to repair a bridge over nearby Lamprey Creek.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks said he and other Chiefs were in the midst of planning a meeting with provincial and federal governments just as dozens of RCMP arrived in Smithers earlier this week.
“Meanwhile, there’s an airplane full of RCMP landing,” he said Thursday evening. While other Hereditary Chiefs are considering whether to proceed with a meeting, Na’Moks said he won’t attend following the arrests.
“It’s really reconciliation at the end of a gun.”
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs moved to enforce an eviction notice issued to Coastal GasLink two years ago on Sunday morning, according to Gidimt’en Clan spokesperson Jennifer Wickham.
Wickham said at 5 a.m. calls announcing a road closure began going out over the radio every hour, and messages were relayed through Miles Richardson, a former president of the Haida Nation hired in September to facilitate communication between the Wet’suwet’en, Coastal GasLink and the provincial government.
When no one appeared to be leaving by 3 p.m., the road was decommissioned, she said.
“The government and RCMP are trying to spin it like we’re keeping them hostage. There was no such thing,” Na’Moks said. “Not once did we say we’re not letting anybody leave. We said the road is now closing. This is your opportunity to leave.”
Camp workers said they were not warned about the imminent road closure, nor offered the opportunity to leave.
By Thursday, supplies at the camp were dwindling. According to one worker, whose identity The Tyee agreed to withhold due to employment concerns, they were rationing water by Wednesday.
RCMP called yesterday’s police action a rescue mission.
“We’ve got 500 people without food, sanitation and water,” Staff Sgt. Aaron Sproule, with RCMP’s Division Liaison Team, said as arrests were underway Thursday. “Our objective is to get the road clear to get those goods into that camp.”
Sproule added that the RCMP would focus on opening the road and arrest only those who blocked access. Coastal GasLink obtained a permanent injunction barring anyone from interfering with its operations on Dec. 31, 2019.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, RCMP released a statement saying the road had been opened.
“One vehicle was lit on fire, and one decommissioned excavator was placed at the 62-kilometre mark of the Morice Forest Service Road,” the statement said. “Those have been cleared off the roadway, which was opened to CGL who were able to provide relief supply to their workers.”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Coastal GasLink said water, food and other supplies are being delivered to the 500 workers who remain in camp, but the road is not yet open to the public.
While 15 people were taken into custody, journalist Melissa Cox was released later in the day without conditions. The remaining 14 are expected to appear in BC Supreme Court in Smithers Friday morning for a bail hearing.
Gidimt’en social media posts said two Elders were among those arrested. An RCMP news release said the individuals were having medical issues and “transported… out of the area as a precaution” after being assessed by on-site health services.
Wickham said she was denied access to the territory when she attempted to deliver medication to Elder Janet Williams on Wednesday. A journalist was turned away the same day.
RCMP initially said The Tyee would not be permitted beyond Kilometre 28 on the Morice road, where police have established a checkstop. The Tyee’s reporter was eventually allowed access with an escort from the RCMP’s Division Liaison Team.
Gidimt’en Camp was established two years ago by members of the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en Clan in support of the Unist’ot’en, a neighbouring house group that has opposed pipelines through the nation’s territory for more than a decade.
In January 2019, 14 people were arrested at the camp when they blocked access to the Morice road. At that time, a gate blocking access at Unist’ot’en Healing Centre was opened and Coastal GasLink employees were permitted to access the territory while an interim injunction was before the court.
One year later, on Jan. 4, 2020, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs closed the Morice road at Kilometre 39 after the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction to Coastal GasLink for the duration of pipeline construction.
Over five days in early February last year, RCMP enforced the injunction, arresting 28 people, including four at Gidimt’en Camp and seven at the healing centre.
While the camps have remained in place and RCMP continue regular patrols in the area, no further arrests happened until September, when a new roadblock and camp, known as Coyote Camp, were constructed. Coastal GasLink intends to drill its pipeline under the Morice River, or Wedzin Kwa to the Wet’suwet’en, on the site.
In October, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Dsta’hyl was arrested as he attempted to seize equipment belonging to Coastal GasLink. Dsta’hyl, whose English name is Adam Gagnon, said he was denied access to the territory while monitoring pipeline construction as the senior enforcement officer for Likhts’amisyu Clan. He and Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, from the Gitxsan Nation, were arrested and Dsta’hyl charged with theft over $5,000.
In response to Thursday’s arrests, members of the neighbouring Gitxsan Nation announced they would block railways in Hazelton.
Other organizations were quick to criticize the RCMP’s raid.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs issued a statement Thursday objecting to the use of provincial resources to quell pipeline protests rather than addressing the province’s state of emergency in the south.
“We are absolutely outraged that the Province of B.C. authorized a military-style raid on peaceful land defenders in order to allow Coastal GasLink to build their Liquified Natural Gas pipeline, while much of the province is suffering from life-threatening, catastrophic flooding related events,” UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said.
“Prioritizing fossil fuel expansion while British Columbians grapple with a climate emergency is an alarming, criminal and incredibly poor decision by Premier Horgan and Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.”
Also Thursday, Amnesty International issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C. Premier John Horgan and RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki expressing concern over the arrival of RCMP on Wet’suwet’en territory.
“This escalation is in contradiction with recommendations issued by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in December 2019, which call on Canada to withdraw police and security forces from the area,” Amnesty International Canada Secretary-General Ketty Nivyabandi said.
The letter urged the governments and RCMP to comply with a United Nations warning from two years ago asking Canada to withdraw security and policing services from Wet’suwet’en traditional territory and suspend work on Coastal GasLink, the Site C dam and Trans Mountain pipeline.
On Monday, the federal government missed a deadline to update the UN committee on its progress, saying it would wait until next year to issue the report.
Although the roads into the Coastal GasLink camps are now open, the recently established Coyote Camp remains along a spur road 63 kilometres along the Morice. It continues to be occupied by land defenders who are preventing the pipeline company from drilling planned for this fall.
It seems likely that RCMP enforcements on the territory will continue this week.
Read more: Indigenous, Energy, Rights + Justice
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