British Columbia

Wet'suwet'en pipeline opposition leader released with conditions

Wet'suwet'en members were told they could return to the exclusion zone to engage in cultural practices, while non-Wet'suwet'en members are not allowed to return except to pick up belongings, travel home, or for legitimate work purposes.

Sleydo' Molly Wickham must stay 75m away from Coastal GasLink worksites and equipment

Sleydo' Molly Wickham embraces supporters after being released from Prince George Regional Correctional Centre Tuesday evening. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A key leader in the fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northwestern B.C. has been released from jail with the condition she not interfere with construction of the project.

Sleydo', also known as Molly Wickham, is free to return to her home territory in northwestern B.C. and engage in fishing, hunting, trapping and cultural practices, so long as she stays 75 meters away from Coastal GasLink worksites and equipment.

It is a stronger condition than that given to other Wet'suwet'en members who were released on the condition they stay at least 10 meters away from worksites and equipment. 

Lawyers for Coastal GasLink argued Sleydo' should not be allowed into a court-ordered exclusion zone of the pipeline at all, contending that she has continuously stated her intention to take steps to stop construction and encouraged others to do the same.

Justice Marguerite Church of the Supreme Court of B.C. said such a broad ruling would interfere with the rights of Sleydo' to practice her culture as a Wet'suwet'en woman, and felt the 75 meter limitation was an acceptable compromise. However, she warned that if Sleydo' violated the conditions of her release she may face a more stringent order in the future.

Multiple arrests

Sleydo' is one of the main spokespeople for the Gidim'ten clan of the Wet'suwet'en who on Nov. 14 issued notice they would be setting up a blockade to enforce the eviction of Coastal GasLink workers from its territory.

On Thursday, Nov. 18, RCMP arrived in the region to take part in what they called a "rescue mission" of more than 500 workers who the company said were unable to get food, water or supplies because of the blockade.

After clearing the blockade, RCMP continued enforcement for a second day, which included the arrest of Sleydo' and fourteen others, including two journalists.

While some of those arrested Nov. 18 were released in Houston, the rest were transferred to Prince George where they were held over the weekend before two days of court hearings started Monday.

Conditions differ for Wet'suwet'en and non-Wet'suwet'en

The conditions for release varied depending on the identity of the person. While Wet'suwet'en members were told they could return to the exclusion zone to engage in cultural practices, non-Wet'suwet'en members are not allowed to return at all except in cases where they have to pick up belongings or travel home or — in the case of the journalists — for legitimate work purposes.

Shay Lynn Sampson, a member of the Gitxsan Nation who was released Monday, said the conditions for release were "racist." (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Among those not allowed to travel to the exclusion zone is a Mohawk man who was identified as being culturally Wet'suwet'en by virtue of being engaged to a member of the nation and been welcomed by chiefs.

Hereditary chief Woos of the Cas Yikh (Grizzly Bear House) of the Gidim'ten clan said the courts have no authority over who is and isn't a member of the Wet'suwet'en or who is allowed on their land.

"It's our land. It's Cas Yikh territory," he said. "It's a great insult."

Shay Lynn Sampson, a member of the neighbouring Gitxsan Nation who was released Monday called the conditions "racist".

"We go to our land for many different reasons," she said. "The court has no business deciding what is traditional cultural practices and what is not."

Speaking Tuesday evening after her release, Sleydo' said the courts have done an inadequate job of recognizing Indigenous sovereignty.

"This injunction doesn't take into account Wet'suwet'en law," she said. "I can't go freely on my territory ... we're going to challenge it to the full effect that we can."

Everyone released is expected back in court the week of Feb. 14 for the next portion of their hearings.

With files from Lenard Monkman