British Columbia

UNBC students released, days after arrest at protest in North Dakota

Two graduate students from the University of Northern British Columbia have been released from jail after they were arrested for protesting a pipeline in North Dakota, but it is uncertain when or if they will be able to return to Canada.

Family members are still waiting to find out when or if the grad students can return to Canada

Nicole Schafenacker and Katriona Siloen Auerbach are master's students studying Indigenous health at the University of Northern B.C. They both felt passionate about protesting the pipeline, their professor said. (Health Arts Research Centre, UNBC)

Two graduate students from the University of Northern British Columbia have been released from jail after they were arrested for protesting a pipeline in North Dakota, but it is uncertain when or if they will be able to return to Canada, according to one of their professors.

Nicole Schafenacker and Katriona Auerbach were arrested Thursday, along with more than 100 other people protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline over concerns it will infringe Native American rights and damage the environment and local water supply.

Their graduate studies supervisor, professor Sarah de Leeuw, says it's been difficult to find information about what's happened to the women since.

"Nicole's mom, she had heard from Nicole that Nicole was released [late Saturday]," de Leeuw explained. "Katriona's partner was able to be in touch with the correctional facility where Katriona had been held, and that correctional facility did say that she had been released, but we [have not heard] from Katriona herself."

Dakota Access pipeline protesters defy law enforcement officers who are trying to force them from a camp on private land in the path of pipeline construction on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, near Cannon Ball, N.D. The months-long dispute over the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline reached a crisis point when the protesters set up camp on land owned by pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. The disputed area is just to the north of a more permanent and larger encampment on federally-owned land where hundreds of protesters have camped for months. (James MacPherson/Associated Press)

"We also don't know if Katriona and Nicole are in touch with each other."

De Leeuw believes the two women were taken to separate facilities, and either do not have or cannot use their phones, adding to the confusion.

Charges pending, says professor

According to de Leeuw, charges are pending against the women, and it is unclear how that will affect their ability to return to Canada.

"I think we're all keeping our fingers tightly crossed that there will not be enough evidence to prosecute ... and the fact that they have criminal charges against them won't stand in the way of them coming back home safely to Canada."

Demonstrators stand next to burning tires as armed soldiers and law enforcement officers assemble on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, to force Dakota Access pipeline protesters off private land where they had camped to block construction. The pipeline is to carry oil from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune/Associated Press)

De Leeuw said her students felt deeply that they should support the pipeline protests, and she supports their efforts.

"If we live in a world where our students are at the whim of mass arrest in foreign countries, we live in times that we have to pay attention to and worry about," she said. "At a very personal level I just want to make sure that my students were treated with respect and dignity."

"I'm a concerned supervisor and I imagine that there are Canadians across the country who are concerned about this as well."

On Friday, UNBC president Daniel Weeks issued a statement in support of his students' rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

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