British Columbia

Chief raises concerns over heavily armed RCMP officers on Wet'suwet'en territory

A Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief is raising concerns about police presence at a smokehouse which is traditionally used to prepare food. RCMP officers with assault rifles were captured on camera patrolling the area on June 10 and June 18.

Security cameras capture Mounties with assault rifles patrolling traditional smokehouse

Armed officers with the RCMP's Quick Response Team are pictured outside a smokehouse on Wet’suwet’en territory. (Submitted by Gidimt’en camp)

A Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief is raising concerns about police intimidation after RCMP officers armed with assault rifles were pictured outside his smokehouse in mid-June.

Police said the smokehouse is a newly constructed building near the Morice Forest Service Road, on the right of way for the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline project. Wet'suwet'en demonstrators and their supporters were arrested along the road in early February, sparking solidarity protests and blockades across Canada.

An injunction granted to Coastal GasLink on Jan. 7 blocks anyone from stopping the company's work or interfering with its access to the remote forestry road, south of Smithers, B.C.

Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Woos said the smokehouse was built in early spring and he was shocked to see photographs of RCMP officers at the site. 

"That was quite a big surprise. We're at the point in our cultural ways, we're going to be harvesting some moose and elk," Chief Woos said.

He said the heavily armed RCMP officers are causing concern among Wet'suwet'en families, who want them to stand down.

"I think what we do out there is basically our culture and our tradition. We always show respect to [police] but I think it is concerning, this sort of show of force. It is not reasonable at all," Chief Woos said.

Smokehouse 'in breach' of injunction: RCMP

RCMP verified that the officers in the photos are members of the Quick Response Team, a group of specially trained officers who are familiar with injunction law and are assigned to the nearby Houston detachment to conduct regular patrols and daily checks of the area.

In a statement, North District RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Madonna Saunderson told CBC News that the structure is "in breach of the B.C. Supreme Court injunction order" and that Coastal GasLink has posted a notice of the breach on the building.

A notice posted by Coastal GasLink on the smokehouse requesting that the structure be relocated. (Submitted by Gidimt’en camp)

The notice left by Coastal GasLink workers suggested the structure would prevent or impede the company's work in the area on its "permitted construction footprint."

Coastal GasLink is stepping up construction across northern B.C, with pipe expected to be put in the ground by September along the 670-kilometre route from gas fields in northeastern B.C. to the Pacific.

The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline will carry natural gas to a $40-billion LNG terminal under construction in Kitimat, B.C.

Accord between chiefs, governments

Construction was stalled after conflict erupted over Wet'suwet'en land rights, which resulted in RCMP raids on the pipeline route and, ultimately, demonstrations and rail blockades across the country as Indigenous people and supporters came out in solidarity.

The dispute was over part of the pipeline route, which runs through traditional territory claimed by several Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. 

Work moved forward again after an arrangement was reached in March during talks in Smithers, B.C., involving Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and senior ministers of the federal and B.C. governments. 

The hereditary chiefs and governments signed a memorandum of understanding in May, setting up timelines on negotiating jurisdiction over land use planning, resources, water, wildlife, child and family wellness and other issues.

The elected chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en Nations have said they don't support the memorandum because it was negotiated behind closed doors. The Wet'suwet'en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils.

RCMP says it's checking in weekly

Saunderson said the officers were using "standard equipment available to all police officers across the country" and are fully aware that they are being monitored and captured on camera.

"We continue to check in with the local Indigenous leaders on a weekly basis to discuss any issues or concerns," said Saunderson.

Chief Woos said the building may be in the right of way but said he doesn't believe that the area is specified in the most recent injunction that he has been reading.

He said he has no plans to move the smokehouse.

With files from The Canadian Press