‘We are feeling strong’: B.C. pipeline opponents brace for more possible arrests

SMITHERS, B.C. — Opponents of a natural gas pipeline are bracing for further police action following the arrest of six people near a work site in northern British Columbia.

Speaking from the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston, Wet’suwet’en member Karla Tait said a RCMP aircraft circled the area at least 10 times Thursday after the pre-dawn arrests were made at another camp up the road.

RCMP are enforcing an expanded injunction granted to Coastal GasLink on Dec. 31.

Another Wet’suwet’en member had reported that a convoy of about three dozen RCMP vehicles, an ambulance and heavy machinery was on the Morice West Forest Service Road heading toward the healing centre.

“It’s intimidating the level of force they’re bringing here to this remote location to face unarmed people who have stated time and time again we are peacefully living on our territory,” Tait said.

“But we are feeling strong, we’re feeling confident, we’re feeling resolute in our position.”

Tait said that when officers arrive, members at the healing centre are planning to uphold the eviction notice issued to the company by the First Nation’s hereditary chiefs who say they haven’t given free, prior or informed consent to the project and it violates Wet’suwet’en law.

RCMP said Wednesday that they had delayed enforcing the B.C. Supreme Court injunction for weeks to seek a peaceful resolution, but they had no choice but to follow the court’s orders.

Police asked protesters to either leave or choose to be arrested peacefully.

Also Thursday, hereditary chiefs filed an application for a judicial review of a five-year extension of Coastal GasLink’s environmental assessment certificate, granted by the B.C. government.

Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer said in an open letter Thursday that the company is proud of its broad support from all 20 elected Indigenous governments along the pipeline path and is disappointed that it has not “found a way to work together for the benefit of the Wet’suwet’en people.”

“This is not the outcome we wanted,” Pfeiffer said of the police enforcement of the injunction.

He said the company will move forward with its construction schedule.

“We will continue to search for opportunities for dialogue with the hereditary chiefs and the Unist’ot’en, to search for common ground that accommodates their concerns and benefits the Wet’suwet’en people,” Pfeiffer said.

A RCMP statement issued early Thursday said an exclusion zone was set up as the injunction enforcement action began.

“There will continue to be a marked increase in police resources in the Houston area, and patrols will be conducted on the ground as well as from the air to monitor the situation beyond the blockade of fallen trees and incendiary materials,” the statement said.

Enforcement began less than two days after the provincial government and First Nation failed to reach an agreement during talks intended to de-escalate the dispute.

Fourteen people were arrested as RCMP enforced a similar injunction on the forest service road in January 2019. Two people face criminal charges, while the other charges were dropped.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations issued a statement Thursday saying the organization supports the governance and decision-making process of the Wet’suwet’en leaders.

“The RCMP is sworn to uphold Canada’s law, but Canada must respect First Nations laws and Wet’suwet’en laws. Canada’s highest law — the Constitution — affirms in section 35 the inherent rights of First Nations and our right to self-determination.”

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