14 people arrested at anti-LNG protest camp in northern B.C.
Published Monday, January 7, 2019 10:29AM PST
Last Updated Monday, January 7, 2019 8:43PM PST
Mounties say 14 people have been arrested as police enforce a court injunction against a camp of LNG opponents in northern B.C.
According to an RCMP statement, officers first began talking to representatives of the camp set up on Wet'suwet'en First Nation land about removing a road block they have built along the Morice West Service Road in the town of Houston.
The injunction was granted last month to prevent protesters from blocking access to TransCanada's planned Coastal GasLink project, a 670-kilometre pipeline that would connect to LNG Canada's $40 billion natural gas operation in Kitimat.
The RCMP said it facilitated meetings between hereditary chiefs opposed to the project and members of CGL Monday "in the hopes that this could be resolved without police involvement," but were forced to take action after becoming convinced that wouldn't happen.
"When it was determined that the matter could not be resolved, at 3 p.m. the RCMP proceeded to enter the blockade in order to facilitate open access to the service road," the force said.
Police said 14 people had been taken into custody as of 6:45 p.m.
"All those arrested continue to be processed at this time," the statement read. "During the arrests, the RCMP observed a number of fires being lit along the roadway by unknown persons, and large trees felled across the roadway."
According to a statement by Wet'suwet'en Chief Namoks streamed on Facebook Live Monday night, at least some of those arrested were being transported to Prince George to appear in court.
"What happened today is that our trespass laws were broken, but according to Canadian law, which is being steered by industry, they say that these people are now criminals," Namoks said, adding that police had "charged a couple of them with assault."
The chief added that those taken into custody have the First Nation's continued support.
"We are proud of the people who were arrested because they did the right thing. Now we need all Canadians to stand up and tell this government that they have to treat Indigenous people as human beings," he said.
"We will never give up our rights, title or jurisdiction or authority to any form of government."
Earlier in the day, the RCMP had expressed hopes for a peaceful resolution.
"We are very hopeful that there will not be violence or disorder as we enforce the court order; however, the safety of the public and our officers is paramount when policing demonstrations," the force said.
Video recorded at the camp early in the day revealed a subdued start to the RCMP's intervention, with officers speaking calmly with protesters through a barbed wire fence.
After the arrests, Mounties reiterated that their focus remains on the safety of all those involved in the situation, but said "the RCMP is given discretion to decide how and when to enforce the order."
The protest camp has been set up on Wet'suwet'en First Nation land near Smithers for years. Though TransCanada has stated it has signed agreements with all elected First Nations along the pipeline route, some hereditary chiefs still oppose the project.
Jennifer Wickham, a member of the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en, said TransCanada's agreements are insufficient to push the project forward without the hereditary chiefs' consent.
“Our traditional governance system is separate, and that is who has jurisdiction over the house territories and clan territories,” Wickham told The Canadian Press.
Over the weekend, members of the group Gidimt'en Access Point began sounding the alarm that Mounties had started mobilizing against the camp. They described a potential RCMP intervention as an "act of war" that would fly in the face of the federal government's stated commitment to Truth and Reconciliation.
"Canada is now attempting to do what it has always done - criminalize and use violence against Indigenous people so that their unceded homelands can be exploited for profit," the group said.
Asked for comment on the RCMP's enforcement of the injunction Monday, a spokesperson for federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a brief statement to CTV News reiterating the government's commitment to a "renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership."
Several journalists were stationed at the protest camp Monday to watch the situation unfold, but the RCMP said it planned to set up a temporary exclusion zone at the scene "for police and public safety reasons."
The force did not disclose the size of the exclusion zone, but said reporters would be ordered to stand at the perimeter.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said members are also watching the incident carefully.
"Force is not the solution," Grand Chief Stewart Philip said. "It's counter-productive and it will only exacerbate an already challenging situation. It'll drive the nail in deeper."
According to the UBCIC, rallies in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en are already planned in 30 cities inside and outside of Canada on Tuesday.
That includes Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, Seattle and San Francisco, the group said.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Sheila Scott and The Canadian Press