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Protest against BC pipeline: tensions escalate in Wet’suwet’en territory

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Constables in northern British Columbia say they are enforcing an injunction prohibiting protesters from blocking an access road used by Coastal GasLink pipeline workers.

The RCMP did not confirm Thursday whether any arrests had been made. A spokesperson for the protesters who put up a blockade along the road said in a video posted online that officers read the injunction order and then started arresting people.

The blockade was put in place on Sunday by members of the Gidimt’en clan, one of five members of the Wet’suwet’en nation, cutting off access to more than 500 pipeline workers. The workers had been given eight hours’ notice to leave, the group said in a statement.

Gidimt’en spokesman Sleydo ‘, whose English name is also Molly Wickham, said the court-ordered injunction had no authority over their land.

“The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and our clans have full jurisdiction here,” she said in the video shared Thursday. “They violate, violate human rights, violate indigenous rights and, more importantly, they violate the Wet’suwet’en law.”

However, a statement released on Wednesday by the elected Wet’suwet’en council said the protesters did not consult them before blocking the road and that their actions “cannot claim to represent members of the Gidimt’en or any other in the the First Nation. “

Gendarmes were called in to help as several hundred workers were “illegally blocked by protesters, who also prevented essential supplies and services from entering the camp,” RCMP said in a statement Thursday.

“We were hopeful that a solution would be found without resorting to law enforcement, however, it became very clear to us that our discretionary period has come to an end and that the RCMP must now enforce (court orders) ). “

Chief Superintendent John Brewer said in the statement that the RCMP had “serious concerns” about protesters cutting down trees, vandalizing heavy machinery and damaging the forest service road in an attempt to prevent industry and police to go past.

The dispute over the 670-kilometer pipeline has already erupted in 2019 and 2020, and protesters who defied the court order have been arrested.

Opposition to the pipeline among Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at the time sparked solidarity rallies and rail blockades across Canada last year. The elected Chief and Council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others in the area had approved the project.

Since then, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the federal and provincial governments and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, easing tensions so far.

The RCMP said they have set up an access control point on the Morice forest service road to prevent further escalation of the situation and alleviate security concerns.

Jennifer Wickham, media coordinator for the Gidimt’en checkpoint, said chartered planes with RCMP officers had arrived in the past two days and a number of arrests had been made until now, including two Wet’suwet’en elders.

“I think it’s absolutely crazy that they are sending all these RCMP members up north right now when there is a state of emergency in the province,” she said. an interview.

Coastal GasLink has said in statements throughout this week that it worries about its workers, who risk running out of water and other supplies.

“It is unfortunate that the RCMP must take this step so that legal access to our lodges and public forest roads can be restored,” he said Thursday. “As soon as it is safe to do so, water and other supplies will be brought to our labor huts.”

The pipeline that would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern British Columbia to Kitimat on the coast is more than halfway complete with most of the route cleared and 200 kilometers of pipeline installed to date, the company said.

– by Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 18, 2021.

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