Defendants accuse Coastal GasLink of trying to 'subvert authority' of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs

Freda Huson and hereditary chief Smogelgem, the individuals named in the Coastal GasLink injunction case, filed their response in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday, opposing the company’s application for an injunction.

Freda Huson and hereditary chief Smogelgem are the named defendants in civil case, injunction application

Hereditary Chiefs Smogelgem, (left to right), Knedebeas, Madeek, Hagwilneghl and Na'Moks speak to media following their meeting with RCMP members and Coastal GasLink representatives to discuss ways of ending the pipeline impasse on Wet'suwet'en land during meetings at the Office of the Wet'suwet'en in Smithers, B.C. in January. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Two Wet'suwet'en Nation members are accusing Coastal GasLink of attempting to "subvert the authority" of their hereditary chiefs, in their response filing in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday opposing the company's application for an injunction.

The Trans-Canada-owned Coastal GasLink pipeline is part of a $40 billion project that would move natural gas extracted from northeastern B.C. to the proposed LNG Canada facility in Kitimat where the gas would be liquefied and shipped overseas.

Coastal GasLink and its contractors had been unable to get permission to pass the gates at the Unist'ot'en camp on Wet'suwet'en territory. The company got an interim injunction from the court in December for access, which was enforced by RCMP in January.

Freda Huson and hereditary chief Smogelgem were named in the civil case and application for an injunction filed by Coastal GasLink in late November. Huson is the spokesperson for the Unist'ot'en camp.

None of the allegations in the filings have been proven in court.

In its court filings, Coastal GasLink described Huson, Smogelgem and others at the camp as "acting without lawful authority with the stated purpose of stopping the project."

Freda Huson (left) at the entrance to the Unist'ot'en camp and healing centre with a supporter, speaks to a member of the RCMP Division Liaison Team in January. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

In their filing, Huson and Smogelgem accuse Coastal GasLink of attempting to "subvert the authority of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs" and of putting the advancement of reconciliation between the Crown and the nation at risk because of the approach the company took when faced with opposition from hereditary leaders.

A large portion of the 670 km proposed pipeline is slated to go through Wet'suwet'en traditional territory - a route rejected by most of the nation's hereditary chiefs, who "have the ultimate responsibility for their respective territories," states the response filing.

Defendants emphasize Wet'suwet'en law

Huson and Smogelgem's response filing argues that from the perspective of Wet'suwet'en law, not allowing Coastal GasLink through the gates is reasonable and lawful because the company doesn't have permission from Dark House Head Chief Knedebeas to enter or pass through his house group's territory.

Signs at the Unist'ot'en camp. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

"One of the firmest Wet'suwet'en laws holds that one cannot enter another's territory without asking for and receiving the head chief's permission. Trespassing on house territories is considered a serious offence," the filing states.

In its consultation process, Coastal GasLink had been in contact with the nation's elected and hereditary leadership. The hereditary chiefs working through the Office of the Wet'suwet'en and Knedebeas have repeatedly said they do not support the project as proposed.

Huson and Smogelgem's filing says Coastal GasLink tried to sidestep the true Wet'suwet'en authorities by funding and engaging with a society called the Wet'suwet'en Matrilineal Coalition, who the filing says "improperly represented themselves as hereditary chiefs." 

The filing says strategies such as funding the WMC are evidence of Coastal GasLink attempting to undermine Wet'suwet'en governance and law.

A man stands at a Coastal GasLink worksite where the company gained access to after receiving an interim injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court in December 2018. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

The court filing also states that the people in the WMC were "reprimanded and ordered to stop using a hereditary chiefly title or formally stripped of the claimed chiefly title" as a result of their dealings with Coastal GasLink.

A spokesperson for Coastal GasLink said the company "conducts itself to the highest standards and in accordance with legislation and regulation."

"We are limited in what we can say as this matter is before the courts. We are reviewing the evidence and will respond as appropriate through the court."

The case is expected to be heard in court in May, at the latest.