Indigenous opponents to a planned natural gas pipeline through northern B.C. have been given 72 hours to clear the way toward a critical work site.
But Coastal GasLink — who posted the latest B.C. Supreme Court injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and their supporters at a checkpoint set up near Houston, B.C. — said it is still seeking a peaceful resolution that avoids conflict with police.
The order, which was delivered Tuesday and also posted online, calls on the opponents to remove any obstructions to Coastal GasLink workers erected on any bridges or roads, including cabins and gates.
If those obstructions are not cleared by Friday, the court says the company is authorized to remove them. The RCMP have also been given authority to arrest and remove anyone found to be violating the order.
Despite noting that “police retain discretion as to timing and manner of enforcement of this order,” Coastal GasLink says posting the order was procedural and the company has no plans to request police action.
“We continue to believe that dialogue is preferable to confrontation while engagement and a negotiated resolution remain possible,” spokesperson Suzanne Wilton said in an email to the Canadian Press.
The company declined an interview request, but added it plans to resume work this week.
The order does not apply to a metal gate on the west side of a bridge outside the Unist’ot’en camp, unless it is used to prevent or impede the workers’ access.
Hereditary chiefs negotiated last year with the RCMP for the gate to remain outside the camp.
The latest injunction order was granted by B.C. Supreme Court on Dec. 31, extending earlier injunction orders that date back to December 2018.
That initial interim injunction was enforced by RCMP last January in an operation that saw 14 people arrested and was called a “raid” by opponents. The enforcement sparked rallies across Canada and raised questions about who holds claim to ancestral Indigenous lands.
Some members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation argue Coastal GasLink never received consent from hereditary chiefs, who say they hold title over the lands and served eviction notices to construction workers over the weekend.
The company did get approval from the First Nation’s 20 elected band councils for the $6.6-billion project, which is set to feed liquefied natural gas (LNG) from northeastern B.C. to the planned LNG Canada export facility in Kitimat 670 kilometres away.
The pipeline is part of the $40-billion LNG Canada project that will export Canadian natural gas to Asian markets. The agreement with the company includes financial compensation for the elected councils.
Gary Naziel, a former Wet’suwet’en elected councillor, told Global News he’s hopeful the rift can be healed between the elected and hereditary leaders of the First Nation.
“I’d like to see a reunification in our nation,” he said. “I’m sure it will come together and we’ll all be reunited again. That’s my hope and dreams.”
The hereditary chiefs have declined a meeting with Coastal GasLink representatives after the company sent a letter Tuesday requesting to sit down and discuss the issues standing in the way of an agreement.
Opponents are instead asking to meet directly with B.C. Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to try and convince them to reconsider provincial and federal government support for the project.
“This is land,” said Chief Na’Moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale and is the highest-ranking hereditary chief of Tsayu, one of the five clans that make up the First Nation.
“It’s our duty to look after it, our duty to make sure Mother Earth is taken care of properly by the proper people.”
Members of the Gidimt’en, one of five Wet’suwet’en clans, and supporters reoccupied the area along a logging road in April near the site where the injunction was enforced last year.
On Tuesday, Coastal GasLink shared photos of more than 100 trees that were felled along the logging road, which were discovered shortly after the chiefs issued their eviction order.
Chief Na’Moks told reporters at a news conference that same day that the Wet’suwet’en felled the trees to protect their own safety.
RCMP have not yet said if they plan to enforce the injunction, but said in a statement Wednesday it is concerned about the felled trees and has been in contact with the hereditary chiefs.
“While the RCMP respects the rights of individuals to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the BC Supreme Court in the injunction, our primary concerns are public and police officer safety,” Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said in the statement.
“We will take steps to ensure that those who unlawfully interfere with or threaten the safety of any person or property may be held accountable in accordance with the laws of Canada. This applies to demonstrators, industry employees and contractors, as well as the general public.”
The police force has come under fire for the way it enforced the previous court order after a December report in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, which suggested RCMP discussed deploying snipers and putting children into social services.
After Public Safety Minister Bill Blair voiced his concerns about the report, the RCMP said the force has started a review of all documents relating to its enforcement of the injunction and has not found any that reflect the statements in the newspaper article.
Lawyer Michael Lee Ross, who represents the Wet’suwet’en members named in the injunction, told the Canadian Press his clients are discussing a possible appeal of the new court order.
“A challenge of an order is normally a challenge of the legal basis on which the order is grounded. So that is one of the avenues that is still open to them,” he said Wednesday.
—With files from Sarah MacDonald and the Canadian Press
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