Multiple arrests have been made on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory as RCMP enforce an injunction order against people blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.
According to supporters of the blockade, more than a dozen RCMP officers moved past the police checkpoint on Morice Forest Service Road in the pitch dark well before dawn on Thursday.
“It’s a whole damn army up there,” said Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Woos, who also goes by the name Frank Alec.
“They’ve got guns on, they’ve got tactical gear on. They look like they’re ready for war.”
The arrests were made at kilometre 39 — one of three camps built by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs — on the traditional territory near Houston, B.C., Gidimt’en clan spokesperson Molly Wickham said in a Facebook video.
“They’re clearing out 39-kilometre camp, which is the supply camp. We have word they started tearing down the tents,” Wickham told CBC News by phone, just before watching several RCMP trucks drive past her.
“[We’re] frustrated and worried about people.”
In an open letter posted on the Coastal GasLink website, president David Pfeiffer called the situation “disappointing.”
“This is not the outcome we wanted. We have made exceptional efforts to resolve this blockade through engagement and dialogue,” said Pfeiffer.
RCMP said its officers began enforcing a court injunction against people blocking the Coastal Gaslink project on Thursday. The protests along the snowy forest road are in the heart of Wet’suwet’en territory.
The RCMP statement said no one will be allowed past the force’s access control checkpoint Thursday while the order is enforced, except enforcement officers and some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and elected council members who have an arrangement with a senior RCMP commander.
Media at the scene “may be inconvenienced,” it added.
Mounties did not provide any information on arrests made in the hours before the statement was released. CBC has reached out to the force for further comment.
The RCMP action comes two days after last-ditch talks broke down between the B.C. government and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, after the two tried to find a peaceful resolution to an ongoing standoff over the natural gas pipeline’s construction.
On Wednesday afternoon, RCMP told protesters to leave the area or face arrest. The force said it had “maximized” the discretionary time frame provided by the court and was moving to enforcement as a result.
The Coastal Gaslink pipeline would run through Wet’suwet’en territory to LNG Canada’s $40-billion export facility in Kitimat, B.C. The pipeline is owned by Calgary-based TC Energy, which agreed to sell a 65 per cent stake in the project to private investment firm KKR and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) in December.
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have said their protest against the $6-billion, 670-kilometre pipeline is and will remain peaceful.
As RCMP moved in Thursday, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs announced they were launching a court challenge against the pipeline’s environmental approval.
The application is asking for a judicial review of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office’s decision to extend an environment certificate for the pipeline by five years.
A statement said the extension was granted “despite over 50 instances of non-compliance” by Coastal Gaslink as well as a failure to incorporate recent findings of the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which found links between resource-extraction projects, “man-camp” environments and increased violence against Indigenous women.