B.C. Supreme Court issues injunction against Wet’suwe’ten Nation protesting pipeline

PRINCE GEORGE – A B.C. Supreme Court judge issued an injunction Dec. 31 against the Wet’suwe’ten Nation that is blocking Coastal GasLink’s (CGL) access to a natural gas pipeline project.

This means RCMP can now arrest protesters who are stopping workers on a remote logging road near Houston, B.C.

Coastal GasLink is owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corporation, formerly TransCanada Pipelines. They are building a 667-kilometre natural gas pipeline from Dawson Creek, B.C. to a liquified natural gas plant (LNG) scheduled for construction in Kitimat.

The estimated cost to build the export facility and the Pipeline Project is about $40 billion. CGL entered into long term transportation service agreements with LNG Canada Joint Venture Participants and it is estimated they will spend about $6.2 billion to implement the pipeline project.

The project is expected to create 2,500 jobs during peak construction on the Pipeline Project and about 10,000 jobs during peak construction across the export facility.

Defendants Freda Huson and hereditary Chief Smogelgem from Wet’suwet’en Nation argued in court that their checkpoints were legal under Wet’suwet’en law. They claimed the company doesn’t have permission from the head chief to pass through their territory.

Wet’suwet’en members say this is some of the most beautiful and pristine territory in the world and has been cared for by their Wet’suwet’en peoples. They say it’s their duty to ensure the land remains healthy and sustainable for generations. (Facebook)

Justice Marguerite Church rejected that in Prince George court on Tuesday.

“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,” said Justice Church in her decision.

She also said that Huson, in her capacity as spokesperson for Dark House, “refused all offers by the plaintiff to meet to discuss the Pipeline Project prior to the commencement of construction. She refused to provide any substantive comments to the Environmental Assessment Office or the Oil and Gas Commission regarding permit applications and did not accept the plaintiff’s offers to provide capacity funding for consultation purpose.

“Ms. Huson’s only responses have been to state her opposition to the Pipeline Project and that she would not permit the plaintiff to access the territory past the Bridge Blockade.”

RCMP can now enforce the court order that allows CGL continued access to work areas in the Morice River area in Wet’suwe’ten Nation.

Justice Church said Coastal GasLink has all the necessary permits and authorizations and met the legal tests for an injunction.

In a press release on Dec. 31, CGL said they are proud of their relationship with the 20 First Nations they signed agreements along the pipeline route.

“Coastal GasLink remains focused on constructing this approved and permitted $6.6-billion project safely and with respect for our Indigenous partners and local communities along the route,” read the release. “We are proud of the relationships we’ve built with all 20 First Nations along the corridor, the significant benefits we continue to deliver to Indigenous and local communities, and the role we are playing in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Twenty Indigenous bands along the Pipeline Project route are expected to reap more than $338 million cumulatively over the life of the pipeline project.

There will be contracting and employment opportunities along the pipeline project, including more than $620 million in contract work to Indigenous businesses for upcoming construction and additional opportunities for Indigenous and local businesses expected to total about $400 million.

In January 2019, RCMP arrested more 14 protestors when they were enforcing a previous interim injunction order against Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Prior to the Interim Injunction, access to the Roads was impeded by the
Bridge Blockade.

The Bridge Blockade consisted of two gates spanning the width of the Morice River Bridge. The gates blocked access to the bridge and also to the Morice West FSR to the west of the Bridge Blockade.

The first gate was comprised of wood and barbed wire. The wood portion of the gate was painted with signage that read, “WEDZIN KWA CHECKPOINT UNIST’OT’EN TERRITORY NO ACCESS WITHOUT CONSENT.”

A second gate made of metal pipe and spanning the width of the bridge was constructed further down the Morice River Bridge.

The protestors denied access to various industry representatives and government, including the RCMP and refused to remove the gates on the bridge despite notice that the construction of the blockade contravened
the Forest Service Road Regulation.

Other Indigenous Nations rallied together to protest and show support for Wet’suwe’ten Nation with the hashtag #ShutDownCanada trending.

Accusations it’s about politics and not pipelines

Some critics, however, say the blockades have nothing to do with pipelines, but rather power struggles within bands.

Justice Church, in her decision, noted the internal politics.

“More recently, there have been disagreements among some of the
Wet’suwet’en people with respect to who holds certain hereditary chief names and whether proper protocols have been followed with respect to taking of such names.

Justice church said the evidence before her “indicates significant conflict amongst members of the Wet’suwet’en nation regarding construction of the Pipeline Project, including disagreements amongst the Wet’suwet’en people as to whether traditional hereditary governance protocols have or have not been followed, whether hereditary governance is appropriate for decision making that impacts the entire Wet’suwet’en nation and the emergence of other groups, such as the Unist’ot’en, which purports to be entitled to enforce Wet’suwet’en law on the authority of Chief Knedebeas and more recently the WMC, which apparently seeks to challenge the authority of the hereditary chiefs to make decisions for the Wet’suwet’en nation as a whole and the manner in which the traditional governance processes have occurred.

Justice Church said evidence suggests that the indigenous legal perspective, in this case, is complex and diverse.

“The Wet’suwet’en people are deeply divided with respect to either opposition to or support for the Pipeline Project.”

Justice Church also said there’s evidence that protestors are people from areas outside the region and even outside B.C.

The Wet’suwet’en Nation issued a statement Dec. 31 saying they disagreed with the the court’s decision and vowed to continue their fight.

“We cannot rely on Provincial law to protect Wet’suwet’en land, people, or interests. Under the threat of continued police violence, the Wet’suwet’en have complied with the interim injunction order imposed throughout our territories. However, the Wet’suwet’en have never ceded our lands to Canada or British Columbia, and colonial governments have never lawfully obtained the authority to render decisions on our lands.

“In this time of reconciliation, with BC being the first province to legislate UNDRIP, this ruling by a court in BC against Indigenous rights and recognition truly proves that industry, not the people, can control the Province and its laws,” said Dini’ze Na’moks (John Ridsdale). “Ultimately, we are our own government, and we decide who comes on our territory. We are the hereditary chiefs. British Columbia and Canada only have assumed and presumed authority on our lands.”

Photo of checkpoint protestors (Wet’suwet’en Nation Facebook)

READ MORE: Calgary-based TC Energy selling 65% equity interest in B.C. Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project

-Alberta Press staff

-reporter@albertapressleader.ca

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