B.C. RCMP make arrests at pipeline protest site following alleged 'swarming incidents'

Multiple officers were involved in the arrests. Police have not said whether anyone they took into custody are suspected of being involved in the alleged 'swarming'. (Submitted by Jennifer Wickham/Gidim’ten Checkpoint - image credit)
Multiple officers were involved in the arrests. Police have not said whether anyone they took into custody are suspected of being involved in the alleged 'swarming'. (Submitted by Jennifer Wickham/Gidim’ten Checkpoint - image credit)

Five people were arrested at a camp on traditional Wet'suwet'en territory in northwestern B.C. on Wednesday.

Sleydo', a spokesperson for the Gidimt'en checkpoint, said Mounties in multiple police vehicles arrived at the checkpoint around 10:30 a.m. PT, though she was not on site when it happened.

"They immediately began arresting people, as far as we know," Sleydo', also known as Molly Wickham, said in an interview with CBC News.

According to a statement from Yintah Access, five people, most of them Indigenous women, were arrested, including Gidimt'en Chief Woos' daughter.

'Swarming incident' prompted search warrants: Police

Houston RCMP said in a statement they made the arrests following allegations of violence against people building the Coastal GasLink pipeline in the area.

However, there is no indication those arrested are suspected of having anything to do with that particular incident. Instead, they were arrested for refusing to "cooperate with police direction" and obstruction of a peace officer.

Police say they were attempting to carry out a warrant in relation to an incident that happened late Sunday night.

"On March 26, 2023, at 11:40 pm, the Houston RCMP responded to a complaint from Coastal GasLink security that one of their workers had been swarmed by a group of individuals wearing masks and camouflage at the 43 km mark of the Morice West Forest Service Road," the RCMP statement says.

"The group fired flares and gained access to the work vehicle when the worker left the area because of the intimidation."

The police say the group then allegedly poured liquid onto the vehicle and stole a chainsaw.

TC Energy, which owns Coastal GasLink, says no one was injured during the incident on Sunday.

In response, police say they were granted search warrants for two locations on the Morice Forest Service Road, both of which were executed Wednesday morning — one at the Lamprey provincial campground site and another at the 44.5-kilometre point.

A photo of the search warrant provided by Yintah Access states that police said there were reasonable grounds to believe the commission of theft under $5,000.

Police confirmed that five people were arrested at the Lamprey provincial campground site for obstruction of a peace officer; police say four people refused to co-operate with police direction, and one attempted to prevent members from executing the warrant.

RCMP say the investigation is ongoing.

Making us look like criminals'

In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Sley'do said the five people arrested by RCMP had been doing paid work as territory monitors for the Gidimt'en Clan, building and monitoring trails for cultural uses.

She denied any link between the camp and the alleged violence RCMP say they were investigating.

"There's this strategy by RCMP and Coa'stal GasLink of making us look like criminals that the public should be scared of, framing us as criminals, and not just Indigenous people on our territories."

She said the five people arrested by RCMP on Wednesday were charged with obstruction of a police officer and released that evening, with conditions to keep the peace.

On Thursday, the B.C. Prosecution Service said it didn't have any information on the arrests or charges. The RCMP said it had no update.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs released a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying these latest arrests continue a "troubling" pattern of police intimidation.

RCMP under scrutiny

The arrests come as RCMP in the region are being scrutinized for past actions.

Last month, the RCMP's federal watchdog agency launched an investigation into the Community-Industry Response Group, a special unit policing protests against resource extraction in B.C.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), which receives and oversees public grievances against the Mounties, said it would be examining whether the unit's operations are consistent with the Charter, legislation on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as well as the findings of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

In the statement addressing Wednesday's arrests, RCMP said they are supportive of peaceful protests but "criminal acts by persons under the guise of protesting, particularly the violence exhibited by the suspects in this instance, will not be tolerated."