Hereditary chiefs ask RCMP not to act with force against gas pipeline opponents

SMITHERS, B.C. — A spokesman for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chiefs says they have asked the RCMP not to use force against opponents of a natural gas pipeline facing an injunction order in northern British Columbia.

Na’moks said he and other chiefs delivered “directives” during a meeting with RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan, as well as local New Democrat MP Taylor Bachrach and provincial Forests Minister Doug Donaldson.

“All we ask for is to maintain the peace and to not allow the RCMP to step forward and start any form of violent action,” he said after a rally in Smithers on Friday.

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along the planned 670-kilometre route from northeastern British Columbia to LNG Canada’s export terminal in Kitimat on the coast, but hereditary chiefs say the project does not have their consent.

Supporters of the chiefs have felled trees along a road to a Coastal GasLink work site and are building a new support camp at a pullout.

They already occupy two other camps along the road. The Unist’ot’en camp, where one woman named in the injunction has lived for 10 years, and the Gidimt’en camp, where the RCMP enforced an injunction last year and arrested 14 people.

RCMP spokeswoman Dawn Roberts confirmed that a series of meetings is scheduled and ongoing.

But she says in an email that out of respect for those involved and the spirit of what they are trying to accomplish, she will not share what is discussed until all the meetings have taken place or decisions have been made.

She says the RCMP is committed to facilitating dialogue between those involved.

“We remain hopeful that these efforts will result in a resolution. This has been our focus and continues to be our focus,” she says.

The RCMP issued a statement Wednesday saying it has launched a criminal investigation into traps likely to cause bodily harm after patrolling the area where trees were felled across the road.

Officers found stacked tires with jugs of fuel inside, as well as bags of fuel-soaked rags. They also found trees along the side of the road that had been partially cut, which the RCMP say could be knocked down by wind.

Roberts says that investigation is progressing and remains active.

Na’moks has said the trees were felled for the safety of Wet’suwet’en chiefs and their supporters.

Coastal GasLink responded to an interview request with an emailed statement.

“Coastal GasLink is approved, permitted and under construction today with more than 1,000 people working to build it, safely and responsibly,” Suzanne Wilton says in the statement.

She pointed to a news release that says clearing, grading, workforce accommodation, construction and other activities are planned for January between Chetwynd and Kitimat. The company has awarded $870 million in contracts since the final investment decision was made in October 2018, it says.

At the rally Friday, a spokeswoman for the Gidimt’en camp called supporters to donate supplies like warm clothes, noting the temperature is expected to drop to -30 C by Monday.

“We’re being told that we are criminals for breaking the law,” said Molly Wickham, who also goes by Sleydo’. “Well I’ll tell you that at one point at time, stealing our children from us and putting us in residential schools was the law.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2020.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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