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Indigenous leaders, province fear violence as talks disintegrate over LNG pipeline

Last Updated Feb 5, 2020 at 2:40 pm PDT

FILE - Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs from left, Rob Alfred, John Ridsdale, centre and Antoinette Austin, who oppose the Costal GasLink pipeline take part in a rally in Smithers B.C., on Friday January 10, 2020. The Wet'suwet'en hereditary clan chiefs and their supporters want a public investigation into the way the RCMP are controlling access along a rural road in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

RCMP could move on Wet’suwet’en camps as early as Wednesday as talks crumbled with province

'Wiggus' talks between Indigenous leaders, province came to an abrupt halt days early as tensions spike over pipeline

Both sides are calling for safety to remain a priority as the threat of police action looms

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Mediated de-escalation talks between Wet’suwet’en leaders and the province are on hold after two days of discussion, as the two sides reached an impasse over the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline.

According to a statement from hereditary chiefs, they expect the RCMP to enforce an interlocutory injunction upheld by the courts as early as Wednesday.

“Coastal GasLink declined to see this discussion resulting in progress. Therefore, the enforcement of the injunction is imminent,” reads the release, shared by the appointed mediator and former NDP MLA Nathan Cullen.

Chiefs demand Horgan at table

Hereditary Chief Woos says the chiefs put forward their proposal for what four days of further talks would look like, asking for Premier John Horgan, Attorney General David Eby, Minister of Natural Resources Doug Donaldson, and RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki to join the talks.

He says he was told the upcoming legislative session would make scheduling such a summit impossible and that Coastal GasLink deemed the proposal unlikely to result in progress. The talks disintegrated shortly thereafter.

Though the company adds it remains open to dialogue with the Wet’suwet’en and both sides are calling for safety to remain a priority as the threat of police action looms.

In an emailed response from the province, it says only two days of mediations were agreed on with Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser as the representative for the government.

“All parties agreed to a seven-day cooling off period with regard to the injunction and enforcement order. The first day was January 30th. The objective of the cooling off period and the talks was to find a peaceful resolution,” it reads. Talks will continue on a day-to-day basis. “It is inaccurate to suggest that the government in any way walked away from discussions.

“We honour and value our deepening relationship, and we are dedicated to continuing to build that relationship, including through the Wet’suwet’en process of Wiggus/Respect … We hope that the paramount need for safety stays the top priority for all parties,” says Minister Fraser.

Chief Woos says the perception was that the province had walked away prematurely.

“The talks never ended in our view,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, they should be ongoing.”

A war on two fronts

Indigenous people are declaring the death of reconciliation in Canada as tensions over the Coastal GasLink projects increase day by day.

While the province has been dealing with a deteriorating relationship over Coastal GasLink’s pipeline in the north-central Interior, it has remained aligned with nations on the South Coast, who are fighting the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation and Coldwater Indian Band declared that “reconciliation stopped today,” after the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the Nations’ challenge to Trans Mountain’s expansion.

As tensions rise in the north, South Coast Indigenous people are promising increased civil disobedience and extreme measures to block any construction.

RCMP Action imminent

Protesters, who prefer to be called land defenders, say they expect the RCMP to move in on Wet’suwet’en occupation camps on their traditional territories near Smithers on Wednesday.

The RCMP promised not to enforce the injunction so long as “Wiggus” talks continued, but with those talks coming to a grinding halt on Tuesday, it’s unclear what police will do next.

Chief Woos says he is expecting violence and describes the mood as tense.

“How can we be a match for a bunch of guns that are pointed at us and all fully loaded? We can’t be,” he says. “We’re peaceful. We’re not going to engage with a bunch of goons coming in. We’ll let them fight air.”

He says the protesters blocking access to a pipeline worksite have been instructed to not attempt to fight back, and instead remain peaceful.

The force has maintained active checkpoints on the Morice West Forest Service Road that provides access to Wet’suwet’en territory where the protest camps reside and even arrested an elder just one day after the talks were announced.

In a video posted to Facebook, 73-year-old Carmen Nikal is arrested while trying to cross the checkpoint, carrying donuts to protesters. She was denied access when trying to cross as a passenger in a vehicle after declining to show her ID.

“All I am is a passenger in a vehicle and I know of no Canadian law that says I should produce my ID for riding as passenger in a vehicle,” says Nikal before walking toward the checkpoint.

Cas Yikh Elder Arrested at 27 km

The RCMP have promised our Dinï ze' and Tsakë ze' they will stand down for 7 days. Nowhere in the injuction does it say they have the right to set up an exclusion zone. They arrested our Cas Yikh elder and a supporter that was filming the interaction Jan 31/20. They were released on site. Please stay tuned as more RCMP are entering the area and now have reports of police dogs in Houston. Keep up the pressure. Their illegal behaviour is unacceptable. For background info and ways to support visit: yintahaccess.com#WetsuwetenStrong #RCMPstanddown #AllEyesOnWetsuweten #NoTrespass #WedzinKwa #DefendTheYintah #RCMPAreMercenaries #WouldYouShootMeToo #LandDefenders #WaterProtectors #RiseUp #LightYourSacredFires

Posted by Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory on Sunday, February 2, 2020

“And I’m not producing ID,” she adds.

An RCMP officer then says, “Don’t make us arrest you, please. Okay that’s it, turn around. Why do you have to make things so difficult, please turn around … we told you, you don’t want to listen.”

The officer then instructs his partner to arrest a man filming the interaction from behind the checkpoint.

“No. I’m just filming,” he replies. A post from the protest group says Nikal was later released without charges.

Last week the BC Centre for Civil Liberties condemned the RCMP checkpoints saying they are illegal exclusion zones where people’s rights have been repeatedly violated.

“We have serious concerns about the overbroad scope as well as inconsistent and arbitrary exercise of RCMP discretion in Wet’suwet’en territories,” says the executive director of the BCCLA, Harsha Walia.

“The RCMP implementation and enforcement of the exclusion zone criminalizes and impedes the movement of Wet’suwet’en people, invited guests of the Wet’suwet’en, media, legal counsel as well as food and medical supplies. RCMP interference with individual liberty is significant, arbitrary, and disproportionate to achieving the stated goal of public safety,” says Walia

The RCMP checkpoint has been in force since Jan. 13, 2020 at the 27-km mark on the Morice West FSR.

The RCMP maintains the checkpoints are not exclusion zones and has acknowledged additional members have been on standby in Smithers during the “Wiggus” talks.

With files from Kurtis Doering