British Columbia

Coastal GasLink opponents build new camp near pipeline route

Supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs blocking a pipeline route near Houston, B.C., have built a third camp on disputed land covered by a court order.

'Land defenders' supporting Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs can now enter contested land without RCMP scrutiny

Molly Wickham (left) and Chief Dtsa H'yl during the construction of the new camp. The site is just 500 metres from an RCMP checkpoint. (Facebook/Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory)

Supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs blocking a pipeline route near Houston, B.C., have built a third camp on disputed land covered by a court order.

The camp's location — about 500 metres before an RCMP checkpoint — means visitors, including activists, can enter the area without being questioned or turned away by police.

It's the third such site built by a group of people who call themselves "land defenders." All three camps were set up by the Gidimt'en clan.

There are also several other camps around the contested land that have been set up by different clans.

They support Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who are trying to stop the multi-billion-dollar Coastal GasLink pipeline crossing their traditional territories. 

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre pipeline path, but the hereditary clan chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en Nation say the project has no authority without their consent.

'Support us on this front line'

Videos posted on social media show supporters shovelling snow, cutting wood and raising the walls for a cabin at the new camp last week.

In a social media post, Molly Wickham, spokesperson for the Wet'suwet'en Gidimt'en clan, urged allies to stay at the camp and keep it stocked with supplies.

"Come to support us on this front line," she said in her online post.

Because the police checkpoint is a further half kilometre up the road, visitors to the camp won't face RCMP scrutiny.

Wickham told CBC News the new camp "ensures the safety of our people and gives somewhere for folks to go."

The camp is 27 kilometres down the Morice Forest Service Road, a pipeline access road that's subject to a court order.

The order gives RCMP the right to arrest people and remove cabins and obstacles that impede Coastal GasLink's work.

Wickham was one of 14 people arrested one year ago, after RCMP enforced an interim injunction and breached barricades of a fortified Wet'suwet'en checkpoint built at the 44-kilometre mark on the same road. The Crown ultimately dropped all charges.

A camp remains at the 44-kilometre site, and there is another camp at 39 kilometres, both past the RCMP checkpoint.

The new camp at 27 km on the road that provides access to the Coastal GasLink worksite. (Facebook/Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory)

'We have a right to be on our territory'

Wickham told CBC News the new camp doesn't contravene the court order.

She said the camp is far from pipeline work sites, and that the camp structures are next to the access road, not on it. 

"It's not impeding the injunction in any way shape or form. We have a right to be on our territory," she said. 

In any case, she added, there are no pipeline crews working in the area. Coastal GasLink temporarily removed its crews from the disputed land after hereditary chiefs served them with a symbolic eviction notice.

"The only way people are impeding the injunction is if they're actually stopping work," Wickham said. 

Wickham said the hereditary chiefs and their supporters "will remain on this land forever."

Coastal GasLink declined to comment on the new camp, saying their focus is on a peaceful resolution.  

RCMP referred to the site as a "mini-camp."

"We are aware and ... continue to liaise with the group daily,"  said Cpl. Madonna Saunderson.

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he has no plans to abandon the Coastal GasLink project, which he says offers a great economic opportunity for the many nations along the pipeline route.