The RCMP moved in Thursday morning to clear a forest service road in northern British Columbia that was barricaded by a crushed van and felled trees as Wet’suwet’en and Haudenosaunee members prepared for a “final stand” to block construction of a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline.
Jennifer Wickham, a media co-ordinator for the Gidmet’en checkpoint on the Morice River Forest Service Road, told CBC News in a phone interview that police arrested at least eight people, including two Wet’suwet’en elders and a legal observer. Wickham said the RCMP are using at least one canine team.
“They are arresting everybody now,” she said.
The remote logging road begins just west of Houston, 1,000 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, and is an old battleground.
Twice, in 2019 and 2020, the RCMP rolled up the road to clear barricades, arresting supporters of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who say proponents of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project never obtained consent to cross their territory.
“This time, the line is stronger. There’s more at risk,” Molly Wickham, also known as Slaydo’, a Gidmet’en Clan member, said in an interview with CBC News from an occupied and fortified CGL drill site.
“If it has to be the final stand, then that’s what’s going to happen.”
The pipeline resistance made its most recent move this past weekend, demanding CGL leave the territory and then using a backhoe to drop a crushed van across the entrance of a bridge, felling trees and digging up a section of the forestry road.
CGL said the actions severed their ability to supply two work camps holding 500 workers with food and water. The RCMP flew in an unknown number of officers to nearby Smithers on a charter Wednesday.
The RCMP moved onto the road accompanied by heavy machinery to take back the road, clear camps and an occupied drill pad site.
Reports from behind the barricades said police movement was coming from two directions — one rolling in from Houston and another coming from CGL work camps behind the barricades.
“Right now we have the RCMP moving onto Wet’suwet’en territory with heavy machinery,” Skylar Williams said in a telephone interview with CBC News.
Williams travelled to Wet’suwet’en territory from Six Nations in Ontario.
He was reportedly arrested Thursday, according to the 1492 Land Back Lane Twitter account.
‘Discretionary period has come to an end,’ RCMP say
The RCMP issued a statement Thursday saying it was mobilizing resources for what it characterized as an enforcement and rescue operation in connection with a 2019 injunction making it illegal to block the road.
“It has become very clear to us that our discretionary period has come to an end and the RCMP must now enforce [the injunction],” said Chief Supt. John Brewer.
In a video statement issued Wednesday, Gidimt’en Hereditary Chief Dini ze’ Woos called for a meeting of hereditary chiefs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan.
“We are open to a dialogue,” said Woos.
The Wet’suwet’en lines this time are bolstered by “several” Haudenesaunee members from Six Nations territory, which sits near Hamilton, and Akwesasne, which straddles the Canada-U.S. border about 120 kilometres west of Montreal, said Williams.
‘Make these stands’
“Our people need to make these stands and I hope that across Turtle Island it spreads,” said Williams, who has has been on Wet’suwet’en territory for about two weeks.
Williams is a spokesperson for the 1492 Land Back Lane movement, which weathered an Ontario Provincial Police raid and forced the cancellation of a housing development in Caledonia, Ont., this year.
“There is nothing that these courts and cops with injunctions can do to deter, to slow the amount of strength that is behind our people when it comes to the connection with these lands, these waters and most certainly to each other,” said Williams.
The $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline — which is owned by TC Energy — is a key piece of a $40-billion liquified natural gas export terminal project — which is said to be the largest private-sector investment in Canadian history.
The pipeline would feed natural gas from the area of Dawson Creek, B.C., to a liquified natural gas terminal in Kitimat, along the B.C. coast on Haisla Nation territory for export through the Douglas Channel to Asian markets.
The terminal is a joint venture called LNG Canada involving Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corp., Petronas, PetroChina Co. and Korean Gas Corp.
Coastal GasLink has signed deals with 20 First Nation elected band councils along the pipeline route, including from Wet’suwet’en territory.
Band council condemns pipeline resistance
One of those band councils, from Wet’suwet’en First Nation, issued a statement Wednesday condemning the ongoing pipeline resistance.
The statement said Wet’suwet’en communities are mourning the deaths of a number of elders from COVID-19. It said community members are also grappling with the fallout from the devastation wrought by landslides and flooding in large swaths of the interior and southern parts of the province.
“The actions of a few members of the Gidimt’en Clan who claim to evict Coastal GasLink and the RCMP from the headwaters of the Morice River (Wedzin Kwa in our language) do not represent the collective views of the clan or of most Wet’suwet;en people,” said the statement from Chief Maureen Luggi and councillors Karen Ogen and Heather Nooski.
“Even though we are also members of the Gidimt’en Clan, the protesters … have never consulted us about their actions and cannot claim to represent us or any members of the First Nation.”
However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those band councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves because their authority comes only from the Indian Act.
The hereditary chiefs — who are the leaders of the nation’s governance system in place before the imposition of the Indian Act — assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of the nation’s traditional territory, an area recognized as unceded by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1997 decision.
The current events were set in motion in September when Gidimt’en Chief ‘Woos led an occupation of a site CGL planned to use to drill beneath Wedzin Kaw river.
“They didn’t consult with us. They said they were going to drill under this river,” said Woos, according to a video from a ceremony at the site provided to CBC News.
“That is not going to happen.”
A cabin, tents and fortifications went up on the site and red Mohawk warrior flags were hung from the heavy machinery.
The RCMP is saying little about its ongoing activities.
The 2019 and 2020 actions and ongoing operations to March 2021 have cost the B.C. government about $20 million, according to records.
The RCMP spent about $13 million in 2019 and 2020, according to records obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.
RCMP use helicopter, drone
The Mounties have since spent an additional $5.8 million up to March 2021, according to records first obtained by the Tyee online news organization.
RCMP body cam video, helicopter footage and notes from the 2019 first raid obtained by CBC News reveal the scope, scale and intensity of operations against fortified Wet’suwet’en positions along the forestry road.
In 2019, the RCMP deployed about 51 members, including an emergency response team (ERT) unit, 20 vehicles, a helicopter and drone, according to police notes.
The use of “lethal overwatch” during the operation is mentioned twice in notes and reports obtained by CBC News.
The RCMP has said the use of lethal overwatch, or “sniper observers,” which are part of the ERT units, are used as lookouts, “while other police officers are engaged in other duties which occupy attention.” The RCMP has said it does not imply plans to use snipers to shoot anyone.
The notes also show the RCMP has dogs and pepper spray in its arsenal for potential use, both of which were considered during the 2019 raid.
RCMP helicopter footage shows the vastness of the terrain, framed by heavy bush, that police need to secure. The helicopter circled several kilometres of road, capturing images of demonstrators felling trees to impede travel and setting fires set along the forestry road.
The 2020 raid triggered waves of protest across the country, including on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, where community members blocked a key rail link between Montreal and Toronto for several weeks.
The federal and B.C. governments then agreed to enter into discussions with hereditary chiefs on the unresolved issues around title and rights on their territory. But those talks have yet to come to any solid solutions.
This time, Molly Wickham said the opposition won’t back down on the ground.
“Our ancestors have died for hundreds of years since contact, and thousands of years before that, to defend our land,” she said.
“And that’s a responsibility from our ancestors that we carry with us.”