As strong opposition and support against the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northwestern B.C. continues to grow, people were downtown Prince George to show their support today (Feb. 15) with a rally.
"RCMP moved in on Wet'suwet'en unarmed land defenders to remove them from their traditional territory using tactical gear, K-9 units, helicopters, drones," organizers of the Prince George rally said.
"On Monday (Feb. 10), they arrived at Unist'ot'en healing camp. This excessive show of force from the RCMP against Elders, Matriarchs, and land defenders while both the provincial and federal government stand by and speak of 'reconciliation' - when the RCMP literally cut through it with a chainsaw - is absolutely unacceptable."
"Just as importantly as this injustice and colonial violence, is that arguments of 'rule of law' miss the essential layers of legal rulings such as the 1997 supreme court ruling that confirmed Wet'suwet'en land was never ceded - as well as our provincial government's recent decision to adopt UNDRIP, where Article 10 states 'Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.'"
The Prince George protest joins the list of several that have disrupted the B.C. legislature, CN rail lines, VIA rail lines, the Port of Vancouver and other locations while frustration brews over RCMP actions and what some are saying are lackluster government responses.
On Feb. 6, RCMP began enforcing an injunction that prevents interference at the pipeline construction site near Houston, B.C. where 14 were arrested before dawn at a camp along a remote road.
The B.C. Supreme Court granted an interlocutory injunction to Coastal GasLink on Dec. 31, 2019.
Justice Marguerite Church said Coastal GasLink has the permits and authorizations for the project and has satisfied the requirements for an interlocutory injunction.
She said there is evidence to indicate that the defendants have engaged in deliberate and unlawful conduct for the purpose of causing harm to the plaintiff and preventing it from constructing the pipeline.
"There is a public interest in upholding the rule of law and restraining illegal behaviour and protecting of the right of the public, including the plaintiff, to access on Crown roads," she wrote.
"The defendants may genuinely believe in their rights under indigenous law to prevent the plaintiff from entering Dark House territory, but the law does not recognize any right to blockade and obstruct the plaintiff from pursuing lawfully authorized activities."
In response, Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs stated they "reject" the B.C. Supreme Court's decision.
"Coastal GasLink has never obtained consent from the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs to enter or work on our territories," the statement said.
The pipeline, however, has support from 20 elected band councils along the route as all of them signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink.
Chief Coun. Crystal Smith of the Haisla Nation in Kitimat said last month that the project will help the community become less reliant on federal funding. The Haisla Nation is also in discussions for equity stakes in the project, which Smith said would create revenue that the community could decide to invest in housing, health or education, in contrast with federal money that comes with restrictions on how it can be used.
But, five Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Clan Chiefs say the pipeline cannot proceed without their consent.
Supporters at a camp near Houston have been blocking construction in violation of a court injunction, which the RCMP began enforcing last week. The hereditary chiefs say they have authority over the broader 22,000 sq. km of traditional territory the pipeline would partially cross, while the elected band councils only administer smaller reserves.
A fire was lit on the steps of the B.C. legislature on Feb. 6, joining in protests to halt the pipeline.
On Feb. 11, as the throne speech was to be delivered at the B.C. legislature by John Horgan and the NDP government, protestors arrived where they blocked all entrances to the building were blocked, which prevented all outdoor ceremonial aspects of the speech from the throne, including the rolling out of the red carpet.
Saul Brown, a Wet'suwet'en supporter, told the crowd that demonstrators were prepared to be arrested.
“This is a day of reckoning” with Canada’s history of colonialism," he said. “We must hold our elected officials accountable... let’s do better as a nation.”
Protestors chanted “shame” as they parted to allow MLAs to enter the building. MLAs declined to comment while they waited for security to give them the go ahead to enter the building.
MLA Lana Popham, minister of agriculture, was turned away after trying to enter the building as protesters refused to move. The protestors also denied entrance to a reporter who tried to get inside.
BC NDP MLAs Jennifer Rice (North Coast) and Janet Routledge (Burnaby North) were also turned away by protesters at the side doors.
Horgan then cancelled a media availability that afternoon to discuss the speech, but later issued a statement saying people have the right to protest peacefully.
"British Columbians have the right to peaceful protest. We support people in the exercise of their democratic rights - within the law," read Horgan's statement.
"That said, I understand the frustration of people who have been unable to go to work today, who have been unable to enter government buildings or have been unable to get around in their communities."
CN Rail announced later in the day that they had to shut down parts of its routes near Belleville, Ont. and the northern mainline in B.C. between Prince George and Prince Rupert, where protesters were also joining in solidary of Wet'suwet'en heteditary chiefs.
“We have obtained court injunctions for both locations and we are working with local enforcement agencies to enforce the orders," the company said in a statement, to date the orders have not been enforced.
The next day, VIA Rail also announced they were shutting down services across the network due to blockades from protestors in opposition of the project.
The federal Indigenous services minister arrived for a meeting today (Feb. 15) with representatives of the Mohawk Nation to discuss a rail blockade that has shut down rail services across Eastern Canada.
- with files from Kyle Balzer - PrinceGeorgeMatters, The Canadian Press, Glacier Media, Roxanne Egan-Elliot and Cindy E. Harnett - Times Colonist, Drew Clarke and Jessica Kerr - Vancouver Courier