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Day 4: RCMP continue enforcement against Wet'suwe'ten over pipeline injunction

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2020-02-09 Chantelle Bellrichard
a person standing in front of a pile of snow: RCMP are seen pulling an arrestee out of the warming centre area on Saturday, Feb. 8. © Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC RCMP are seen pulling an arrestee out of the warming centre area on Saturday, Feb. 8.

It is day four of the RCMP's enforcement of an injunction order in northern B.C. to ensure that Coastal Gaslink and its contractors can resume work in a disputed area of the pipeline route in the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en nation. 

Since Thursday the RCMP have been moving in, kilometre-by-kilometre, camp-by-camp, down the Morice West Forest Service Road, to enforce the injunction against named Wet'suwet'en defendants and supporters. 

The forest service road begins at a turn off from Highway 16 in Houston, B.C. It twists and curves, forking off in different directions and is a roadway Coastal Gaslink is depending on for construction work on a $6-billion, 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline that has received approval from the province.

Twenty First Nations band councils have signed agreements in support of the project, including five of the six band councils in the Wet'suwet'en nation.  

However, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say those band councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves because their authority comes only from the Indian Act. The hereditary chiefs — who are the leaders of the nation's governance system in place before the imposition of the Indian Act — assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of the nation's traditional territory, an area recognized as unceded by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1997 decision.

First Nations and other organizers have been rallying in support of the hereditary chiefs across Canada — holding solidarity protests, putting up roadblocks and blocking railways across the country while others grow increasingly frustrated with the people defying the injunction order and want to see the pipeline go ahead. 

More than 20 people arrested since Thursday

By Saturday night, police had arrested a total of 21 people. Eleven of those people were arrested on Saturday at a site referred to as the warming centre, after police announced it had become part of an expanded exclusion zone.

Police told the people at that warming centre on Friday night they have to leave the site by Saturday morning or face arrest for breaching the injunction. The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs objected to people being removed from the area and the relationship between chiefs and the police was visibly strained on Saturday.

"We've been fed a bunch of lies ever since we met you guys," hereditary chief Madeek told RCMP Chief Superintendent Dave Attfield in a heated phone conversation on Saturday when the chiefs were being kept out of their territory at a checkpoint marking a expanded exclusion zone. 

a man wearing sunglasses driving a car: Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief Madeek speaking to RCMP Chief Superintendent Dave Attfield on the phone while being prevented from crossing a police checkpoint into his territory. © Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC News Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief Madeek speaking to RCMP Chief Superintendent Dave Attfield on the phone while being prevented from crossing a police checkpoint into his territory.

RCMP say the exclusion zone was expanded on Saturday based on the actions of people at the warming centre in recent days "that could possibly endanger those who travel the road, and a blockade of parked vehicles."

CBC has asked the RCMP for clarification about what precisely an "exclusion zone" is and has yet to receive a response.

Unist'ot'en next reoccupation site facing enforcement 

Much of Saturday's police activity involved police removing people from the warming centre area.

As the injunction enforcement continues for the fourth day, there remains one main site where police have yet to take action — the Uniost'ot'en healing village. 

It's not clear how many people are staying there or what kind of obstacles stand in the way of Coastal Gaslink and its contractors. 

Police said in a news release that members of the Indigenous Police Division and Division Liaison team approached Unist'ot'en "to facilitate conversation" on Saturday but said "the occupants of the Healing Centre declined to engage.

Social media posts and news reports from journalists embedded at the centre reported the police arrived by helicopter and that people at Unist'ot'en did not engage in conversation with the police because they were holding a ceremony. 

a group of people riding skis down a snow covered slope: Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with numerous Indigenous communities. But the Unist'ot'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en Nation opposes the pipeline project through its traditional territories.  © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with numerous Indigenous communities. But the Unist'ot'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en Nation opposes the pipeline project through its traditional territories.

Police said in their release that they travelled to the site "by alternative means of travel" because they couldn't travel over a bridge leading to the site. 

The bridge over the Lamprey Creek, about 20 kilometres away from Unist'ot'en, is impassable, said police. They've said a criminal investigation into the situation is going to be undertaken, saying officers noticed on Friday that support beams on the bridge appear to have been cut.

CBC is unaware of what kind of enforcement actions might take place at Unist'ot'en, and when, but will be watching for developments throughout the day.

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