Two pipelines stalled in B.C. as RCMP raids resume in Wet’suwet’en territory

Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs ‘outraged’ as paramilitary operation leads to arrest of land defenders and journalists
Photo: Adam Jones
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Two major pipeline projects in B.C. have stalled, one due an exercise of Indigenous self-determination and the other an unprecedented climate disaster.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline project, designed to transport natural gas across northern B.C., has seen stiff opposition in Wet’suwet’en territory. Indigenous leaders recently acted on an eviction notice issued to the company by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, and have attempted to evict pipeline workers from their territory. In response, heavily armed RCMP tactical units have returned to the area for the first time since a series of raids in early 2020.

A total of 14 individuals were arrested on November 18 for breaching an injunction issued against protests that interfere with the pipeline’s construction. Fifteen more arrests were made the following day. Late Friday night The Narwhal confirmed that photojournalist Amber Bracken, who was on assignment for the publication in Wet’suwet’en territory, was among those arrested by the RCMP. Freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano was also arrested.

Meanwhile, massive flooding in southern B.C. has shut down the Trans Mountain pipeline and put a stop to construction efforts to expand the pipeline in several areas since Nov 14 — the same day the Wet’suwet’en eviction notice was reissued to Coastal GasLink.

RCMP raids Wet’suwet’en once again

The conflict over the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the RCMP raids on Wet’suwet’en territory were the biggest national news story in early 2020, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The RCMP is now back in action, bringing in more officers and establishing an access control point on the forest service road that leads to the area. The police force is once again imposing an “exclusion zone” in an effort to keep media and legal observers out, despite two B.C. Supreme Court rulings this year that found such restrictions to be unlawful.

According to The Narwhal, lawyers for Bracken have been told she will be held in jail until a bail hearing on Monday. The arrest of working journalists was immediately condemned by the Canadian Association of Journalists and the international Committee to Protect Journalists.

“We are absolutely outraged that the Province of BC 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,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said in a release.

He said the B.C. government continues to pretend that LNG can be clean energy and is a so-called transition fuel even though LNG production carries critical environmental and health risks and is a non-renewable energy source that consumes significant amounts of water.

“We are calling on BC and Canada to recognize and uphold Indigenous Title and Rights, including the right to self-determination, and institute a moratorium on fossil fuel expansion in the wake of clear and present climate catastrophe,” Phillip said.

Members of the Gidimt’en clan — one of five clans that make up the Wet’suwet’en Nation — issued an eviction enforcement notice on Nov. 14 to workers with Coastal GasLink, in keeping with ancient Wet’suwet’en laws about trespassing. The workers were granted eight hours to leave the area. Reports have now emerged suggesting that Coastal GasLink did not inform workers of the evacuation window.

According to the police, “a group of protesters opposing the Coastal GasLink project had been blockading outside a workers’ camp” and “several hundred workers were illegally blocked in by the protesters, who had also been preventing essential supplies and services into the camp.”

Officers have since cleared the road and arrested at least a dozen people.

Axes and police dogs used

Coastal GasLink said in a statement that the eviction actions were “putting our workforce and public safety at serious risk” but that “critical supplies can now be safely brought to the workers” as a result of the RCMP intervention.

But Indigenous land defenders have insisted their presence was peaceful and unarmed, and that police used violence against them. According to the Twitter account for the Gidimt’en checkpoint, which lies along the service road, on Nov. 19 RCMP officers breached the checkpoint cabin with an axe and K9 unit while unarmed Gidimt’en women and elders were inside. Media outlets were kept away and internet communications were also blocked.

According to a media release issued by the Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en territory, on November 18, approximately 15 people were arrested, including two elders. Police were deployed in military garb, armed with assault weapons and dog teams.

The RCMP did not respond to questions about media obstructions and arrests and whether they need to consider Indigenous people’s traditional laws and human rights, as well as the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in Delgamuukw that found the hereditary leadership of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan Nations to be the lawful title holders on the territory in question.

The Coastal GasLink project is more than half complete, according to the company.

In the media release sent to Ricochet, the RCMP said claims that police officers are using excessive force in the process of arresting individuals, and that police dogs were used to attack anyone, are false. “We can confirm that the Emergency Response Team and Police Service Dog are deployed to assist with the operation but are only in an observation capacity. As with other enforcement operations, all our actions are documented, including the use of body worn cameras, for court or complaint purposes.”

“An increased police presence raises serious concerns for the safety of Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters, considering previous arrests and reports that officers deployed in 2019 were approved to use lethal over[watch] during the execution of the injunction order,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, in an open letter to the B.C. government, Canadian government, and RCMP.

Amnesty International is urging the governments and police to comply with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s 2019 recommendation that Canada withdraw security and policing forces from Wet’suwet’en traditional lands and uphold international human rights obligations.

Latest obstacle for Trans Mountain

In southern B.C. the Trans Mountain expansion project has ground to a halt in the Fraser Valley, Coquihalla, and Interior regions of B.C., according to a release from Trans Mountain Corp. The existing pipeline is also unable to transport oil.

The company is “utilizing both our Expansion Project and operational resources to work towards restarting the pipeline,” said Trans Mountain Corp. Work on the pipeline expansion continues in areas unaffected by the extreme weather.

“Restarting requires geotechnical evaluations of slope stability and on-the-ground analysis to determine if there is work required before we can safely resume operations,” said the company in a statement on their website. “There are some areas where Trans Mountain will need to restore cover over the pipe or make other repairs to ensure the integrity of the line where it has been exposed due to flooding.”

Trans Mountain Corp. did not respond to emails asking whether extreme disasters could cause pipeline leakage and whether cutting trees to make way for the pipeline could have caused soil erosion and mudslides. Claims that have been widely circulated on social media. In its release, the company said the pipeline is safe and there is no indication of any oil release.

Construction on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion has been temporarily blocked over the past several years in several locations by protests, leading to hundreds of arrests.

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