NDP MPs press Singh to call on B.C. government to pull RCMP out of Wet'suwet'en territory

Three New Democrat MPs are putting new pressure on party leader Jagmeet Singh through a petition calling on him to demand that the B.C. NDP government and the federal government pull RCMP officers out of Wet'suwet'en territory.

The move puts the NDP leader in a bind between the membership and the B.C. wing

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and B.C. Premier John Horgan celebrate after Singh addresses the B.C. NDP convention at the Victoria Convention Centre in Victoria, B.C., on November 23, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Three New Democrat MPs are putting new pressure on party leader Jagmeet Singh through a petition calling on him to demand that the B.C. NDP government and Ottawa pull RCMP officers out of Wet'suwet'en territory.

The petition, which has received more than 1,000 signatures, includes an expression of support for a statement by Young New Democrats of Quebec that urges Singh and the deputy leader, Alexandre Boulerice, to call on their B.C. counterparts and the federal Liberal government to end the RCMP's operations protecting the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

CBC reached out to the signatories. MP Leah Gazan did not respond. MPs Lori Idlout and Matthew Green declined to comment, but publicly voiced support on social media.

"I join @LoriIdlout, @LeahGazan and all the undersigned in publicly denouncing the violence enacted against members of Wet'suwet'en First Nation by the RCMP, and call on the B.C. NDP provincial gov and Liberal federal gov to immediately withdraw the RCMP from Wet'suwet'en territory," Green tweeted.

New Democrat MPs Leah Gazan, Lori Idlout and Matthew Green. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Sean Kilpatrick / Emma Tranter/ Sean Kilpatrick )

The move places Singh in a difficult position — jammed between the wishes of many NDP members and his political need to avoid criticizing the only NDP government in the country.

In November, the RCMP arrested at least 29 people, including a Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief's daughter and two journalists, for breach of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction preventing any obstruction of work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The $6.6 billion pipeline is designed to carry natural gas, obtained by hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — in northeastern B.C., to a $40-billion LNG terminal on the province's North Coast for export to Asia.

The project has the support of 20 First Nation band governments, but not traditional governments under the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs' leadership.

The Wet'suwet'en First Nation's elected leadership issued a statement condemning protests against the pipeline. 

In November, the RCMP used tactical teams, helicopters and canine units in a two-day operation on a forest road near Houston, B.C., about 1,000 km north of Vancouver. It ended with officers using a chainsaw and an axe to break into cabins and make arrests.

Wet'suwet'en members and supporters issued an enforcement notice for the eviction of CGL from their territories early Nov. 14, 2021. (Submitted by Layla Staats)

It was the third time the RCMP had raided barricades on the same forest road in as many years. In 2020, the RCMP's actions sparked nationwide rail blockades and demonstrations.

The RCMP has maintained the arrests were for breaching an injunction in place since 2019 preventing any obstruction on the road. In a November statement, the RCMP said the barricades severed the only ground water supply route for workers in Coastal GasLink pipeline camps, leaving the workers to ration water. 

On Wednesday, Singh once again denounced the RCMP's actions but stopped short of calling for the RCMP to leave — and did not criticize B.C. Premier John Horgan.

"It's clear that we have been very vocal about the use of force of the RCMP," Singh said in response to a reporter's question.

"We were critical of the RCMP and the use of force for a long time, the use of force of police in general. We've been very concerned about that. We're very vocal about that, and we've been calling for changes in this. [The] Liberal government has done nothing to make those changes happen."

The B.C. premier's office said Horgan wasn't available for comment but issued a statement saying that "elected officials in B.C. do not direct police operations."

NDP 'must be called out'

Jay Woodruff, an NDP federal executive who signed the Wet'suwet'en statement, said Singh's comments to date on the matter have not been strong enough.

Woodruff is urging Singh to threaten to distance himself from the provincial party, if necessary.

"The B.C. NDP is acting against what the party stands for, what the membership stands for, and it must be called out," said Woodruff, who is the NDP disability co-chair.

"If they're unwilling to act in a manner that represents the NDP values, they shouldn't be able to use the NDP brand, resources and image because they are not currently upholding the values of the NDP."

Woodruff said the movement is a chance for the federal party to prove it stands behind its members. 

"The situation has caused an identity crisis in the party and members are banding together," Woodruff said.

"Unfortunately, it's creating a situation where members are leaving because the party is just acting so against what people stand for."

Other New Democrats who signed the petition include Ontario NDP MPP Joel Harden, former NDP candidate and filmmaker Avi Lewis and former NDP MP Romeo Saganash.

The petition builds on a November statement issued by the Quebec youth wing of the NDP.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the militarized raid on the Gidimt'en Checkpoint and Coyote Camp by the RCMP on Wet'suwet'en territory, as authorized by Premier Horgan and the BC NDP government," said the statement.

The statement expressed "dismay and anger" with the federal NDP's position. It said Singh's past statements obscure "the oppressive role the RCMP and B.C. NDP are playing in perpetuating colonial violence."

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