RCMP expected stiffer resistance during raid in B.C. pipeline, land rights conflict

·3 min read
RCMP officers on the Morice River Forest Service Road in northern B.C., on Friday, part of a two-day operation to clear barricades blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline. (Submitted by Dan Loan - image credit)
RCMP officers on the Morice River Forest Service Road in northern B.C., on Friday, part of a two-day operation to clear barricades blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline. (Submitted by Dan Loan - image credit)

The RCMP says it expected to face a higher threat when officers moved in last week to clear barricades blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.

Social media "rhetoric" from supporters of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs — who say the Coastal GasLink (CGL) project does not have their consent to cross the territory — led planners to believe they would face fiercer resistance, the RCMP said in a statement to CBC News.

"Our threat assessment … had been heightened by publicly available rhetoric on social media by the protesters calling for 'war,' which was a change from previous protests in the area," said the statement.

It was the third such police operation in as many years. Tactical teams, helicopters and canine units converged on the forest service road — which stems from Houston, B.C., about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver — in a two-day operation that resulted in about 30 arrests.

The statement was issued in the wake of footage, released by independent filmmaker Michael Toledano, showing officers breaking into a cabin with an axe and chainsaw while others pointed assault rifles and a police dog barked outside. Toledano is making a documentary for CBC's The Passionate Eye.

WATCH | Footage of the RCMP deployment:

The operation, like the previous two, met little physical resistance from the two groups of Wet'suwet'en, Haudenosaunee and non-Indigenous people.

Wet'suwet'en member Sleydo' Molly Wickham, who has been a main spokesperson for the land resistance, was in that cabin and says the moment left her traumatized.

"This was a huge invasion … it was pretty intense and really frightening to have machine guns on you," said Wickham.

"They were very violent in the way they arrested us without a warrant. They had no right to enter and remove me from my territory as violently as they did."

Prominent Haudenosaunee grassroots leader Skyler Williams said there was "a lot of arm swinging, it was a bit of a blur, when we hit the ground, our heads were … pushed into the ice."

He said officers called him by name and targeted him for arrest first.

Courtesy of Yintah Film
Courtesy of Yintah Film

The RCMP were enforcing an injunction preventing obstruction of any work on CGL, which is owned by TC Energy.

The RCMP said the makeup of its team remained essentially the same during last week's operation, involving tactical units with "standard issue firearms" and dogs.

The remoteness of the area, surrounded by heavy forests, and the "unpredictable nature of what we could be facing," influenced the equipment and number of officer used, said the statement.

In court in underwear

Wickham, who was released Tuesday evening, says she was held in solitary confinement in Prince George for two days and that she and others went without brushing their teeth and soap for most of their stay in holding cells.

She says they also sometimes went without food or water — some of the faucets were broken — for 12-hour periods.

"City cells are not places where human beings should be for long periods of time," said Wickham.

Courtesy of Layla Staats
Courtesy of Layla Staats

Williams and Layla Staats, another documentary filmmaker, from Six Nations near Hamilton, say their ankles and wrists were shackled and that they were put in separate, box-like compartments in the back of SUVs for transport to their court appearance in Smithers, B.C., on Friday.

Staats described them as "metal dog cages."

Both said they weren't allowed to put their clothes on and instead were forced to go into the courtroom in their undergarments.

"It was a very disgusting feeling to be paraded around in such a way," said Williams.

The RCMP flatly rejected allegations of mistreatment, and said everyone was shuttled in regular detainee transport conditions.

"The allegations of how individuals were treated in a fashion similar to canines is ludicrous," said the statement.

"No one was placed in leg shackles during this operation … All those arrested were given the option what single layer they wished to wear while they were in custody. Individuals opted to wear their base layer, or long johns rather than their outer clothing."

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