British Columbia

Pipeline work resumes after blockades in northern B.C., Coastal GasLink says

Coastal GasLink has resumed construction on a section of a pipeline route in northern B.C. that had been blockaded for two weeks in an ongoing dispute over Indigenous land rights. Opponents of the pipeline say they have left the area "to avoid arrest and violence."

Opponents of the pipeline will continue to protect the land and the water 'at all costs,' says leader

Heavy equipment and a construction worker are visible along pipes that are being lowered into the ground, with a snow capped mountain in the distance
Coastal GasLink installs pipe along its 670 kilometre route from northeastern B.C.'s gas fields to an LNG export terminal in Kitimat, B.C. (Coastal GasLink)

Coastal GasLink has resumed construction on a section of a pipeline route in northern B.C. that had been blockaded for two weeks in an ongoing dispute over energy pipelines and Indigenous land rights. 

In an email to CBC News, parent company TC Energy said it had confirmed that "opposition groups had departed" from a forest service road and a Coastal GasLink drill site on the Morice River on Monday.

"Work is safely resuming along the Coastal GasLink project route after the holiday break."

On Dec. 19, 2021, a group identifying itself as land defenders and water protectors returned to a protest camp to reoccupy the remote area on Wet'suwet'en traditional territory, near Houston B.C., about 1,000 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

People identifying as land defenders and water protectors hold up a Women's Warrior Flag on Wet'suwet'en traditional territory on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, after returning to blockade an area where Coastal GasLink is drilling a pipeline route under the Morice River. (Submitted by Arvin Singh)

Their move to disrupt the construction of Coastal GasLink's natural gas pipeline came just one month after the high-profile arrests of dozens of people blockading the project.

Jennifer Wickham, media co-ordinator for the Gidimt'en Checkpoint told CBC News last month that Wet'suwet'en people and their supporters "are doing what they can in order to ensure that no pipelines cross traditional territory."

RCMP officers have moved in to arrest people in high profile crackdowns on these blockades in each of the last three years.

In 2020, arrests on the Wet'suwet'en traditional territory sparked rail blockades across Canada.

On Sunday, in a social media post, the Gidimt'en Checkpoint posted that "we have received information that dozens of militarized RCMP are en route to Wet'suwet'en territory, to facilitate construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline and to steal our unceded lands at gunpoint."

On Monday, RCMP E Division spokesperson Dawn Roberts told CBC News that "no additional resources" had been sent to the area. "We are not aware of any need for an enforcement action." 

In a written release Tuesday afternoon, Wickham said people at the blockade had "executed a strategic retreat to avoid arrest and violence at the hands of dozens of militarized RCMP....[they] vanished into the woods, evading police violence and criminalization." 

"Our warriors are not here to be arrested. Our warriors are here to protect the land and the water, and will continue to do so at all costs," stated Sleydo' (Molly Wickham), a key leader in the fight against Coastal GasLink.

Late last year, on Nov. 18 and 19, RCMP arrested about 30 Wet-suwet'en members and supporters, along with two photojournalists at the blockades. Police said the arrests were made because protesters had left more than 500 pipeline employees stranded at a Coastal GasLink work camp, where supplies were running out.

A month later in December, the new group of pipeline opponents returned in bitterly cold winter conditions.

Coastal GasLink said "10 to 12 camouflaged and masked opponents took over the Marten Forest Service Road and Morice River drill site."

At that time, RCMP North District's Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said police were investigating reports that a group of protesters "allegedly threatened Coastal GasLink security officials, damaged trucks and fired flares and bear bangers at security officials."

The Coastal GasLink pipeline project is 60 per cent complete, according to the company.

It would carry natural gas hydraulically fractured in northeastern B.C. along a 670 kilometre route to a $40 billion export terminal on the coast. 

A map shows the route of a pipeline from Groundbirch in northeastern B.C. all the way to Kitimat in northwestern B.C.
Coastal GasLink's natural gas pipeline is slated to carry natural gas that's hydraulically fractured in northeast B.C. to an LNG export terminal. People identifying as land defenders and water protectors have been setting up blockades in a remote area near Houston, B.C. (CBC News)

Coastal GasLink has signed deals with 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including in Wet'suwet'en territory, but has not won approval of the majority of hereditary chiefs.

The hereditary chiefs assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of the nation's traditional territory, an area recognized in a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision as unceded.