4 more arrested as RCMP move farther into Wet'suwet'en territory
Opponents of Coastal GasLink pipeline defy B.C. Supreme Court order to clear way
RCMP moved farther into the territory of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation on Friday, making four arrests and starting to dismantle a fortified gate as a tense standoff continued with opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline who have defied a B.C. Supreme Court order to clear the way.
Videos from the scene taken earlier in the day show RCMP officers, in tactical gear, dismantling the fortified Gidimt'en checkpoint, which is located at the 44-kilometre mark of the Morice West Forest Service Road. Those encamped on the other side say they are asserting Wet'suwet'en law, at the direction of the nation's hereditary chiefs.
The Mounties said in a release that, over seven hours, several people refused to leave the area; one climbed a tree while others secured themselves inside a bus and on a tower. They say officers also noticed support beams on a bridge appeared to have been cut, making the structure unsafe for traffic and pedestrians.
The release says RCMP will be conducting a criminal investigation for traps likely to cause injury or for mischief.
Police also alleged late Friday night that metal spikes had been placed along the road intentionally to cause damage to vehicles. According to a press release, "several vehicles driven by RCMP personnel have been made inoperative" because of the spikes.
Hereditary Chief Na'moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, says those arrested were on their own territory, not blocking any construction, which hasn't progressed in the cold weather since December.
"We were living there before the exclusion zone," Na'moks says, referring to the area affected by the court order. He added that police have asked residents of a cabin to leave. "You can't abandon your home."
"If somebody had an RCMP checkpoint at the edge of your driveway and you weren't allowed to come and go from your home as you wish that would be stressful for anybody," he said.
By mid-afternoon, supporters had blocked the only road back to Houston, preventing RCMP from returning to their detachment with those who'd been arrested. People outside the exclusion zone had parked several vehicles to make the route impassable.
Police cleared the cars by late Friday evening.
Vehicles roll in
Fifty-five vehicles — a mix of police and other vehicles — were seen moving into the exclusion zone on Thursday morning according to spokesperson and Gidimt'en clan member Molly Wickham, relaying messages she received from those at the checkpoint.
Wickham, who now carries the Wet'suwet'en name Sleydo', was among those arrested at Gidimt'en on Jan. 7, 2019.
"It's devastating for me to not be there while this is happening," she told reporters outside the exclusion zone on Thursday morning. But she said she needed to stay away because she is currently seven months pregnant.
It's unclear how many RCMP personnel are on the site.
On Thursday, the RCMP began its anticipated enforcement of the injunction after TC Energy was granted permission to construct the $6-billion, 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the coast in Kitimat.
Six people were arrested as the RCMP established the exclusion zone.
The RCMP said they were arrested for obstruction. Officers also removed journalists from the area, drawing condemnation from groups like the Canadian Association of Journalists and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
The RCMP said members of the media, along with others, "were transferred out for safety reasons, but not arrested."
At least four of the six people who were arrested Thursday morning were back on the territory on Friday at a newly populated site at the 27-kilometre mark on the forest service road.
They told CBC News they were released, without charge, late Thursday night.
'Feeling the pressure'
Among those arrested on Friday was Eve Saint, daughter of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief Woos, according to others in the camp.
In an interview Thursday night, she said police have moved quickly through the territory. By Thursday afternoon, people in the camp could hear heavy machinery getting closer to them.
"But we didn't experience any breach as of yet so we're kind of feeling the pressure tonight," Saint said in an interview Thursday night.
Saint said the heavy machinery and RCMP made it within 100 metres of the checkpoint gate before stopping, then leaving.
By late Friday morning they were back.
Saint made clear her group is unarmed and intends to remain peaceful through whatever happens next. But she also plans to stand firm.
She said for her, this is a fight for her land's sovereignty and Indigenous rights.
"The hereditary chiefs had this governance system before Canada was even Canada," she said.
She said she wants to protect that governance system, along with their connection to the land and water in the territory.
The RCMP's actions on Thursday drew outrage from Indigenous leaders and First Nations across the country.
"We are in absolute outrage and a state of painful anguish as we witness the Wet'suwet'en people having their title and rights brutally trampled on and their right to self-determination denied," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said.
There were also several solidarity demonstrations in urban centres.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said Thursday the enforcement actions were "not the outcome we had hoped for, or had been working toward."
"We are continuing to be hopeful that there will be a peaceful resolution," he told reporters.
In an open letter posted on the Coastal GasLink website on Thursday, company president David Pfeiffer called the situation "disappointing."
"This is not the outcome we wanted. We have made exceptional efforts to resolve this blockade through engagement and dialogue," said Pfeiffer.
With files from The Canadian Press