British Columbia

B.C. Supreme Court grants injunction against Wet'suwet'en protesters in pipeline standoff

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has issued an injunction against members of the Wet'suwe'ten Nation who have blocked access to a pipeline project inside their traditional territory in northern B.C.

Ruling gives RCMP mandate to enforce order related to Coastal GasLink project

Police and activists face off through a barbed-wire barricaded.
On Jan. 7, 2019, RCMP enforced an interim injunction ordering people to stop preventing Coastal GasLink workers from accessing a road and bridge in Wet'suwe'ten traditional territory. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has issued an injunction against members of the Wet'suwe'ten Nation who have blocked access to a natural gas pipeline project inside their traditional territory in northern B.C.

Justice Marguerite Church granted Coastal GasLink's application for an interlocutory injunction in a Prince George courtroom on Tuesday, restraining protesters from barring workers from getting through their checkpoints along a remote logging road near Houston, B.C.

Wet'suwet'en Nation members Freda Huson and hereditary chief Smogelgem, the two named defendants in the action, had argued the checkpoints are legal under Wet'suwet'en law because the company doesn't have permission from the head chief of the Dark House hereditary house group to enter or pass through their territory. The judge rejected that.

"The defendants may genuinely believe in their rights under Indigenous law to prevent the plaintiff from entering Dark House territory, but the law does not recognize any right to blockade and obstruct the plaintiff from pursuing lawfully authorized activities," Church wrote

The judge's order confirms an interim injunction that has been in place for the last year, and includes an order providing RCMP with the power to enforce it.

"In the face of the interim injunction order, the defendants refused to voluntarily comply with the order and enforcement action by the RCMP, as well as ongoing RCMP presence, was required to ensure compliance," Church wrote.

The judge said the company has all the necessary permits and authorizations, and had met the legal tests for an injunction.

Fourteen people were arrested in January, 2019  when RCMP moved in to enforce the interim injunction order.

Pipeline company, hereditary chiefs respond

Coastal GasLink is owned by TC Energy Corporation, formerly TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. The natural gas pipeline being constructed will span 670 kilometres from northeastern B.C. to a liquified natural gas plant scheduled for construction in Kitimat on the coast.

The company says it has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the pipeline route, but hereditary chiefs in the Wet'suwet'en First Nation say the project has no authority without their consent.

In a press release, the company said it is proud of its relationships with First Nations along the pipeline corridor. 

"Coastal GasLink remains focused on constructing this approved and permitted $6.6-billion project safely and with respect for our Indigenous partners and local communities along the route," the statement says.

Tensions over a proposed pipeline on disputed Indigenous land led to 14 arrests in January. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

A large portion of the pipeline is slated to go through Wet'suwet'en traditional territory — a route rejected by most of the nation's hereditary chiefs.

Hereditary chiefs representing the First Nation's five clans issued a press release denouncing the judge's decision, pointing out that the land has never been ceded to the Canadian or B.C. governments.

"In this time of reconciliation, with B.C. being the first province to legislate UNDRIP [the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples], this ruling by a court in B.C. against Indigenous rights and recognition truly proves that industry, not the people, can control the province and its laws," Dini'ze Na'moks of the Tsayu Clan said.

Church's judgment acknowledges that the territory is unceded.

"The aboriginal title claims of the Wet'suwet'en remain outstanding and have not been resolved either by litigation or negotiation, despite the urging of the Supreme Court of Canada," the judge wrote.

She also points out that customary Indigenous laws can be admissible as evidence in Canadian courts. However, she questions whether the checkpoints were truly established to enforce Wet'suwet'en law.

"Their public statements do not reference traditional Wet'suwet'en governance structures and upholding the authority of [Dark House] Chief Knedebeas, but rather describe the Unist'ot'en Camp as their focal point, part of a territorial 'reoccupation' and strategically located in the pipeline project right of way as part of a resistance effort," Church wrote.

With files from Chantelle Bellrichard, Karin Larsen and The Canadian Press