The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is condemning the actions of RCMP after at least six people were arrested at a Coastal GasLink protest camp in northern B.C.
On Thursday, RCMP began enforcing an injunction order against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and supporters blocking the liquefied natural gas project that goes through their traditional territory.
“We are in absolute outrage and a state of painful anguish as we witness the Wet’suwet’en people having their title and rights brutally trampled on and their right to self-determination denied,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said.
“Indigenous rights are human rights and they cannot be ignored or sidestepped for any reason in the world, and certainly not for an economic interest. We call on the RCMP to immediately stand down, and we call on the Crown to immediately take responsibility for ending this violence.”
The RCMP released a statement late Thursday afternoon, saying officers had moved into the camps early that morning to set up an exclusion zone where police and Coastal GasLink employees can work, and asked anyone still there to leave.
Now, no one will be allowed through the checkpoint set up on Jan. 13, with the exception of police officers, as well as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and elected council members so long as arrangements are made ahead of time with RCMP.
Protesters at the Unist’ot’en protest camp said more than a dozen officers were on site there, taking down tents, with 36 vehicles involving in the police action, including a bulldozer and an ambulance.
Confirmed reports of multiple arrests and structural damage made at 39 km which was set up as a peaceful supply camp, not blocking the road. RCMP have blocked the road at 4 km. Media exclusion zone in effect. #alleyesonwetsuweten #wetsuwetenstrong #fpic
— Gidimt’en Checkpoint (@Gidimten) February 6, 2020
Six people refused to leave the exclusion area and were arrested, police said. One person was also arrested for resisting arrest. Several people, including journalists, were “transferred out for safety reasons,” police said.
“Due to the number of police officers deployed, our presence may appear imposing,” the statement continued. “In reality, a minimal amount of force was required to support the arrests or removal of individuals from within the exclusion zone.”
One man “dressed in a costume” tried to flee and climb up a tree, police said, but was later taken into custody.
A woman locked herself in a vehicle and took off her clothes, police said. “A window was broken in order to gain access to that vehicle,” police said. She was not hurt and was taken into custody, police said.
The six people arrested were taken to the Houston RCMP detachment and are expected to be released with court dates.
Anyone can go back to the 27-kilometre checkpoint, which has become a designated protest and media site, the RCMP said, but they should expect to be stopped at any point because of heavy machinery coming in, harsh weather and poor road conditions.
“There will continue to be a marked increase in police resources in the Houston area, and patrols will be conducted on the ground as well as from the air to monitor the situation beyond the blockade of fallen trees and incendiary materials,” Mounties added.
The RCMP’s move to enforce the court order comes one day after talks between the hereditary chiefs and the province failed to produce a solution, as well as one day after police outlined their enforcement plan to the media, pledging to use the least amount of force reasonable to arrest a protester.
In a statement posted to the Coastal GasLink website, company president David Pfeiffer called the breakdown of talks “disappointing” but that workers will resume constructing the pipeline by first remove the obstacles along the route in a safe and environmentally responsible way.
“Over the past month and over many years, we’ve reached out to the hereditary chiefs, over and over, but to no avail,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s truly unfortunate that we were unable to find a path forward that allowed for the construction of Coastal GasLink with the support of all.”
Also Thursday afternoon, several hundred supporters marched in solidarity with the pipeline opponents, blocking access at the Port of Vancouver and causing traffic delays. A number of youth protested outside the B.C. Legislature.