14 arrested as RCMP break gate at Gidimt'en camp checkpoint set up to stop pipeline company access

The RCMP have arrested 14 people and entered a fortified checkpoint on a forest service road in northern B.C. where people at the Gidimt'en camp were barring a pipeline company from access.

The Mounties announced Monday they were going to enforce a court injunction to allow Coastal GasLink access to the road and bridge near Houston, B.C.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline is meant to transport natural gas from northeastern B.C. to the coast where an LNG Canada facility is scheduled for construction.

Members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation have been preventing company workers from getting through their checkpoints, asserting they can only pass if they have consent from hereditary leaders.

An injunction was issued last month ordering people to stop preventing the company from gaining access to the area.

Coastal GasLink calls the camps along the route blockades. The Gidimt'en group says they are checkpoints where people can get through, if they have consent.

People at the camp have been anticipating the arrival of the RCMP since December's injunction.

RCMP said in a statement that just before 11 a.m. PT Monday, officers from the Division Liaison Team spoke with representatives of the Gitdumt'en camp about the removal of the roadblock, and facilitated a meeting between hereditary chiefs "in the hopes that this could be resolved without police involvement."

The RCMP broke down a gate at the checkpoint around 3 p.m. and stopped a few metres past it, standing face to face with the Gidimt'en camp and their supporters on a bridge.

Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC
Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC

Five women from the camp were standing on a mound on the bridge overlooking the police with their arms linked, singing.

According to the release from RCMP, the 14 people arrested are currently being processed.

"During the arrests, the RCMP observed a number of fires being lit along the roadway by unknown persons, and large trees felled across the roadway," the statement read in part.

"As with other injunction orders and police enforcement clauses, the RCMP is given discretion to decide how and when to enforce the order. The primary focus for the police is the safety of everyone involved."

'Temporary exclusion zone'

RCMP said it created a "temporary exclusion zone" that no one other than members of the enforcement team is allowed to enter.

"There are both privacy and safety concerns in keeping the public and the media at the perimeter, which should be as small as possible and as brief as possible in the circumstances, based on security and safety needs," said the release.

RCMP said the zone remains in place as of Monday night but will be consistently reassessed.

Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC
Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC

RCMP also denied what it called "erroneous reports" that they jammed communications, preventing the media and public from providing information about the situation on Monday afternoon.

It also denied reports that the military was present during the enforcement operation, though members of the RCMP's Tactical and Emergency Response Teams were deployed.

RCMP also said it was "inappropriate" to make reference to materials provided to the court during the injunction application process, writing that a background statement released on Sunday had been revised.

"The RCMP respects the Indigenous rights and titles in BC and across Canada," said the statement.

Safety concerns

TransCanada has said it signed agreements with all First Nations along the proposed pipeline route to LNG Canada's $40-billion liquefied natural gas project on the coast. But the hereditary leaders say those agreements don't apply to the traditional territories.

"We want them right off Wet'suwet'en territory," Chief Madeek said Sunday, referring to the proposed Coastal GasLink project.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Coastal GasLink said the injunction was "a last resort and a necessary action in our efforts to safely gain access to the Morice River Bridge, after years of attempting to engage the camp to work through a solution.

Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC
Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC

"As we have done in the past, we will continue to keep the lines of communications open to find a mutually agreeable solution."

The B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said in a statement the police enforcement of the injunction "is an operational matter for the RCMP and is entirely at arms length from government.

"We recognize the right for people to engage in peaceful protest. In any situation such as this, we hope all parties find a safe and mutually respectful resolution."

Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC
Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC