British Columbia

RCMP investigate alleged attack on Coastal GasLink pipeline worksite in B.C.

Police were called to Marten Forest Service Road shortly after midnight on Feb. 17 after CGL security reported violence at the worksite, where workers are helping build part of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline.

Company claims 20 people attacked security, workers; no suspects identified and no arrests yet, police say

Damage to an outbuilding that Coastal GasLink says occurred at a work site near Houston, B.C., early Thursday. (Coastal GasLink)

RCMP are investigating a "violent confrontation" at a pipeline construction site involving an unidentified group of about 20 people.

Police said they were called to Marten Forest Service Road about 60 kilometres south of Houston, B.C., shortly after midnight on Feb. 17. They said CGL security reported violence at the site, where workers are helping build part of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline.

RCMP said around 20 people allegedly attacked security guards and employees.

"So these individuals, the 20 or so masked individuals, took these employees by surprise in a very aggressive and calculated method," Chief Supt. Warren Brown told CBC Friday morning.

"They confronted the employees, threatened them with axes and flares and other incendiary-type devices."

According to CGL, heavy equipment on the site was commandeered by the attackers and used to damage other equipment, and that there were "millions of dollars in damage" to machinery although they're still estimating the final cost.

Brown also said attackers used machinery at the site to damage buildings and the drill pad. When officers arrived to investigate that damage, the attackers had already left, he said.

It remains unclear how many employees were on site at the time of the attack. On Friday, CGL said nine employees, including security guards and contract workers, were present at the site. Two different RCMP officers who both said they'd spoken with CGL provided different numbers: one said 12 employees were on site, the other said 11. Both agreed four of those people were security guards.

A map showing various incidents reported by Coastal GasLink at its work sites outside of Houston, B.C., in 2021 and 2022. (CBC Graphics)

Police also said the road was blocked with downed trees and tar-covered stumps when they went to investigate, and that people threw smoke bombs and fire-lit sticks as police made their way along the road. Brown said one officer was injured after he walked over a board with spikes in it, which police said was left by the attackers.

CGL said lighting and video surveillance were disabled in the attack, and any video and photo evidence they have, have been handed over to investigators.

RCMP media relations Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said no suspects have been identified so far, and no one is in custody. So far, neither the police nor CGL have explicitly said whether they believe the alleged attack is tied to opposition to the pipeline.

A photo released by RCMP, who say a road near a Coastal GasLink worksite was blocked by debris and fire. (Submitted by B.C. RCMP)

Brown said police plan to speak with employees who were attacked but that many of them "are very scared and shaken up over this." Police are also appealing to the public for any information.

CGL said there have been several incidents over the past "several weeks" where unknown people have used forest trails to get to that particular site and confront and intimidate workers. The company said those incidents were reported to police.

'Devious, evil'

Brown said those behind the attack are not protesters and described the incident as "devious" and "evil."

"This has nothing to do with protest activity, whether it be legal or illegal," he said, "This strictly has to do with a very, very serious and significant criminal investigation."

Brown told CBC that past protests law enforcement has observed at the site have involved both people who were hostile and acting illegally, as well as those acting peacefully.

He said police would ensure nearby residents and peaceful protesters were safe.

Machinery that Coastal GasLink says was damaged during a 'violent confrontation' near its Morice River drill pad site outside of Houston, B.C., early Thursday. (Coastal GasLink)

A hotly contested pipeline

The hotly contested natural gas pipeline, which is planned to extend from northeast B.C. to Kitimat on the province's North Coast, is being built through the territory of the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

CGL said the project is fully authorized and permitted by government, and has the support of all 20 First Nation band councils, including five of the six band councils in the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

A photo released by Coastal GasLink showing overturned heavy machinery. The company says heavy equipment was commandeered and used to cause damage to other equipment and trailers. (Coastal GasLink)

However, Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have opposed the project, saying band councils do not have authority over land beyond reserve boundaries.

In December 2019, the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction against members of the Wet'suwe'ten Nation who were blocking access to the worksite located within their territory. Earlier that year, police made more than a dozen arrests of people identifying as land defenders, who had set up blockades to stop construction.

In November 2021, RCMP made another set of arrests of Wet'suwet'en members. Police used a chainsaw to break down the door of a cabin where people opposed to the pipeline had been staying. Two journalists were also arrested.

In both cases, police were met with little resistance, despite preparing for high levels of violence.

In statements released Saturday, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and elected council of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation condemned the alleged attacks.

"We want everyone to know that the people of our First Nation do not support anyone who protests in this way," a spokesperson for the nation said in a statement.

"These protesters do not represent us, or our values and they are grossly misrepresenting our traditional laws and customs. This is not our way."

Hereditary Wet'suwet'en Chief Na'Moks, of the Tsayu Clan, declined to comment on the matter until more information about the incident is made available.

CBC has contacted representatives of the Gidimt'en Checkpoint, where much of the protest has been focused, but has not yet heard back.

B.C. Premier John Horgan described the reported attack as "reprehensible."

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson and Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino also publicly condemned the alleged attacks.

Brown said despite ongoing protest to the project, there had been little concern over any tensions in the area lately.

"This completely took us by surprise. I believe it took the industry by surprise," he said. "I'd have to say things have been fairly peaceful over the last short while."

Industry 'reverberations'

The MLA for the area, John Rustad, said he is worried violence like this could create a chill for any company or industry trying to undertake or complete resource projects in B.C.

"It makes it a very challenging work environment for the people that are trying to move forward on this project and do their jobs," he said.

"Obviously they are very concerned for their safety and are very shaken up by this and this will have reverberations right through I suspect on anybody working on any resource project in the province to see this type of lawlessness take place."

With files from Betsy Trumpener, Andrew Kurjata and Eva Uguen-Csenge