CALGARY — Tensions are rising further in northern British Columbia after the RCMP opened a criminal investigation after discovering “traps” and gasoline-soaked rags in the blockade by a breakaway First Nations group against the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline.
RCMP officers on patrol this week along the pipeline blockade found three stacks of tires covered by tarps and trees and were staged along with multiple jugs of gasoline, diesel, oil and kindling as well as “bags full of fuel-soaked rags.”
In a release late Wednesday, the police said they had found the tires and fire-starting equipment on the Morice West Forest Service Road, which leads into a Coastal GasLink pipeline work camp. Dozens of trees had also been felled along the road and other trees were partially cut, in preparation for felling, which the RCMP said created a dangerous hazard.
“These concerning items have been brought to the attention of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. They have also been advised that the RCMP has entered into a criminal investigation under Section 247 of the Criminal Code for Traps Likely to Cause Bodily Harm,” the release stated.
Coastal GasLink, a natural gas pipeline project that stretches from Dawson Creek, B.C. to the under-construction $40-billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat, won a interlocutory court injunction against the protestors in the area and an enforcement order from the Supreme Court of British Columbia last week. The enforcement order gives the RCMP “a mandate” to get involved.
Coastal GasLink — which is jointly owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp., Alberta pension fund manager Alberta Investment Management Corp. and New York-based private equity giant KKR & Co. Inc. — called the discovery of gasoline and tires “extremely disappointing.”
“Coastal GasLink respects the rights of individuals to peacefully and lawfully protest so long as their activities do not jeopardize the safety of the public, our employees, our contractors, or the RCMP,” Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer said in a release.
Pfeiffer said that he had again invited Chief Namox, who is leading the breakaway group of First Nations hereditary chiefs in the area, for another meeting to “try to find common ground and a mutually agreeable solution that ensures the safety of all involved and that results in a peaceful resolution.”
Prior to the RCMP’s release detailing the partially cut trees, rows of tires and gasoline, Karla Tait, a spokesperson for the group of opposed Wet’suwet’en protestors, said the chief was looking to meet with the province rather than the company, because the group considers the dispute a fight over Indigenous rights, title and law.
“The avenue to discuss those terms is with the province,” Tait said.
Asked about other blockades along the forestry road — including pictures shared with the Financial Post of a wall built on a bridge and a school bus parked on a bridge — Tait said the group was “in a defensive posture.”
“Our intention is to uphold Wet’suwet’en law,” Tait said.
The group at the Unistoten camp believes Indigenous law gave the hereditary chiefs the right to evict Coastal GasLink from the area because the land had never been ceded in a treaty with the provincial or federal government.
However, the fight has exposed divisions between elected and hereditary chiefs in north-central British Columbia because elected chiefs and councils of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have signed benefits agreements with the project. The company has agreements in place with all elected First Nations governments along the pipeline route.
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