All eyes on Wet’suwet’en chiefs’ meeting with federal, provincial ministers

SMITHERS, B.C. — The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation prepared to sit down with senior government ministers on Thursday after two of its longstanding conditions were met for the duration of the scheduled talks.

As federal Crown-Indigenous Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Affairs Minister Scott Fraser made their way to Smithers, B.C., for the long-sought talks, both the RCMP and Coastal GasLink said they agreed to conditions requested by the chiefs to allow the meetings to progress.

The natural gas company agreed to a two-day pause in its activities in northwestern B.C., while the RCMP committed to ending patrols along a critical roadway while the negotiations unfold.

The chiefs praised the moves in a statement released shortly before the talks were expected to get underway.

“We believe these conditions provide the space we need to be able to sit down at the table in good faith and a positive path forward,” the statement read.

“We are so close and have called on the provincial and federal governments to support this de-escalation of activities so that this issue can be resolved.”

The chiefs said the meeting with Bennett and Fraser is a “first step,” noting both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan declined invitations to discuss the long-simmering issues that have gained fresh urgency in recent weeks.

The chiefs’ opposition to a natural gas pipeline cutting across their traditional territory, coupled with their efforts to limit police presence on their lands, have sparked shows of support across the country that have shut down freight and passenger rail service for the past three weeks.

Both Bennett and Fraser said they hoped the meetings would pave the way to end the dispute and protests.

“We’re looking forward to the meeting,” Bennett said moments after arriving in Smithers. “Obviously this is very important. We reaffirm our interest in talking to the Wet’suwet’en Nation and their issues of title and rights.”

Fraser largely echoed Bennett in a statement issued shortly before his departure for the meeting.

“We are pleased to have been able to arrange for further talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs,” the statement read. “We are coming to the table with a commitment to respectful dialogue and are focused on finding a peaceful path forward.”

The dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline project has been raging for months, but entered a new phase on Dec. 31, 2019, when the B.C. Supreme Court granted the company an injunction calling for the removal of any obstructions from any roads, bridges or work sites it has been authorized to use in Wet’suwet’en territory.

The RCMP moved in to enforce that injunction on Feb. 6. Hours later, protesters started holding up railway traffic outside of Belleville, Ont., in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, thwarting freight and passenger rail travel.

In Ottawa, one Conservative MP questioned Thursday whether the blockades constitute acts of terrorism.

Doug Shipley put the question to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair during testimony at the House of Commons public safety and national security committee.

The rookie MP said he was asking on behalf of a constituent who sent him an email after a handful of protesters in the Belleville area lit fires near and on railway tracks the day before — actions that were denounced by Trudeau.

“This resident wanted to know if the current illegal blockades that are happening across Canada are being deemed as a terrorist activity?” Shipley asked.

Blair said they were not, adding the government should not interfere with the police’s ability to identify and investigate criminal activity in their jurisdiction.

“It’s very appropriate that I be careful in doing that because I do not want to interfere with the operational independence of both the police and our prosecutors,” he said. “But at the same time that was terribly unsafe, deeply concerning.”

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testified at the same committee hearing, saying the Mounties have discretion on how to enforce an injunction.

“Of course, enforcement is the last option,” she said. ”It’s about dialogue and trying to find a peaceful resolution to the blockades.”

The Ontario Provincial Police took down a major blockade near Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory earlier this week. But about 20 demonstrators gathered near train tracks in Kingston, Ont., farther east along the same line, on Thursday morning.

Local police said the group gathered on the Canadian National Railway Co. overpass, but train traffic had not been affected and officers were monitoring the situation.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tim Hortons to test deposit program for returnable coffee cups and packaging

Test program to start at select Toronto restaurants

FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chat before a round table meeting of NATO leaders in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Evan Vucci
US NATO allies still short on defence spending aims

None of the 30 allies owes NATO or its members money

Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce announces business of the year winners

All finalists ‘displayed courage’ this year, says chamber CEO

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

Red Deer city council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 28 about whether to take the future expansion of Molly Banister Drive off the table. (Photo by MAMTA LULLA/Advocate staff).
Opinion: Molly Banister extension isn’t as important as quality of life

Citizen opposition to the Molly Banister Drive extension has grown since the… Continue reading

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
I ask myself: ‘What the hell’ has happened to Red Deer?

I moved to Red Deer on Nov. 1, 2001, and I fell… Continue reading

Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod wipes tears from her eyes after losing 2-1 to England during a FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday June 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canadian ‘keeper Erin McLeod happy in Iceland, looks to help others stay positive

Orlando loaned McLeod to Iceland’s Ungmennafelag Stjarnan in August

FILE - Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet (23) goes up for a shot agains the Boston Celtics during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Raptors do without live visits from potential recruits as NBA draft approaches

No opportunity to bring players to Toronto training facility

FILE - This Dec. 11, 2019 file photo shows Channing Dungey at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Breakfast Gala in Los Angeles. Dungey has been named chairman, Warner Bros. Television Group, starting her tenure at the studio early next year. The news was announced today by Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, to whom she will report. Dungey will succeed Peter Roth who will be stepping down from his Studio responsibilities running the TV Group and its operating divisions in early 2021. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
Study: TV industry falls short of off-camera inclusivity

Whites held 92 per cent of chair and CEO positions

Tampa Bay Rays' Brandon Lowe rounds the bases after a home run off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin during the first inning in Game 2 of the baseball World Series Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Lowe homers twice, Rays hold off Dodgers 6-4 to even Series

Lowe homers twice, Rays hold off Dodgers 6-4 to even Series

Most Read