HOUSTON, B.C. (NEWS 1130) – It appears RCMP officers are moving in on a remote First Nation in northern B.C., as demonstrators deny access to pipeline construction crews.
A pair of camps, built by the clans in the Wet’suwe’ten Nation, are there, opposing the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline. The Mounties have confirmed officers will be enforcing a court injunction on Monday. It says to expect an increased police presence.
It says it is very hopeful that there will not be violence or disorder” but adds “the safety of the public and our officers is paramount when policing demonstrations” and officers need to be there “should there be a need to make an arrest.”
The BC Supreme Court issued an interim injunction order on Dec. 14, 2018. That order gave demonstrators 72 hours to stop blocking access.
“The RCMP’s Division Liaison Team and Indigenous Policing Section have maintained a dialogue with the residents of the Unist’ot’en camp in the hopes that they would abide by the injunction and remove the gate on Morice River Bridge. Unfortunately that has not happened and Coastal Gaslink Pipeline Ltd. have been unable to conduct work in this area,” the RCMP stated in a news release.
Meanwhile, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) has been urging the RCMP to stand down. The UBCIC condemns what it calls police intimidation and harassment meant to force the removal of the Unisto’ot’en Camp and the Gidimt’en Checkpoint.
“We strongly condemn the RCMP’s use of intimidation, harassment, and ongoing threats of forceful intervention and removal of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders from Wet’suwet’en unceded territory,” said Phillip.
The UBIC says the continued police presence ignores previous court cases that give Indigenous groups land and title rights to the area, and stress that the federal and provincial governments must acquire consent from them before the proposed Coastal GasLink can start on the 700-kilometre pipeline through the territory from Dawson Creek to Kitimat.
Now Phillip argues the continued, increased police presence there will only make things worse.
“It only serves to provoke the reaction it has provoked,” he said. “You can’t intimidate people through using the RCMP as your goon squad and expect any kind of result.”
Phillip says he is concerned about the safety of people who are staying at the camps, including children and elders. He expects, in the coming days, the people there to be demonized and labelled as extremists.
“There’s always potential for injury and harm to come, and we must bear in mind that the people in the camp are local residents. There are many, many elders and children, and youth there, and have been there for a number of years now,” he said. “It’s not like there’s a hardcore Al-Qaeda element in the camp, that’s just absolute nonsense.
“These are rank-and-file members of the Indigneous communities. The hereditary leadership strongly support what is going on up there.”
Phillip says he appreciates that the situation is a difficult one to navigate, but stresses that “force is not the solution.”
Full statement: Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs
Dozens of police vehicles were seen heading into nearby towns over the weekend as officers are expected to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction that allows Coastal GasLink to work on the pipeline. The Gidimt’en checkpoint is being use to block access to the Unisto’ot’en Camp and entry to the territory.
On Sunday, the RCMP said while it “respects the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing,” it is planning for the enforcement of the injunction.
“Through the Division Liaison Team and the Indigenous Policing Section, the RCMP have maintained a dialogue with the residents of the Unist’ot’en camp over the last several months, to discuss the possibility of an injunction order being issued and what our role is, as police of jurisdiction, in enforcing that order,” the RCMP statement said.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen says he is heading to the blockade.
“After consulting the Wet’suwet’en chiefs I will be traveling to the blockade set up along the Morice River to support the chiefs message of peaceful dialogue & respect for the land,” he tweeted.
Demonstration planned in Vancouver Tuesday
There are at least rallies planned in over 20 cities to support the camps this week. Hundreds of people say they will attend a demonstration planned for Tuesday in Downtown Vancouver.
“Any removal of Wet’suwet’en peoples by the RCMP, or any other authoritarian forces, will directly violate UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and the Trudeau government’s promise to implement UNDRIP,” is stated on the demonstration’s Facebook event page.
“The Wet’suwet’en have laid out a path toward the implementation of UNDRIP, and the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent requirement of international law. Canada has chosen to ignore this path toward reconciliation,” it adds.
A GoFundMe page aimed at raising money to provide supplies for people at the camps. As of Monday morning, the online fundraiser has raised nearly $50,000.
– With files from Kurtis Doering, Adam Cooper, the Canadian Press