The B.C. RCMP confirmed Wednesday that it had arrested five people in Wet’suwet’en territory that’s been a flashpoint over development of a natural gas pipeline.
Police said the arrests came as they executed a pair of search warrants following allegations a Coastal GasLink worker was “swarmed by a group of individuals wearing masks and camouflage” at the 43-kilometre mark of the Morice West Forest Service Road, near the northern community of Houston.
According to an RCMP media release, the company alleges the group shot flares at the worker’s truck, then proceeded to pour liquid on the vehicle and steal a chainsaw.
In its own media release, the Gidim’ten Checkpoint alleged RCMP’s controversial Community-Industry Response Group raided a Gidimt’en village site and arrested five land and water defenders on a warrant for theft under $5,000 “with no clear relation to the Gidim’ten village site.”
“In the days leading to this police action, RCMP C-IRG have been found patrolling Wet’suwet’en traplines and cultural use areas, harassing and intimidating Wet’suwet’en members and disrupting constitutionally protected Wet’suwet’en cultural activities,” the release alleged.
“Members of a private security firm hired by Coastal Gaslink pipeline, Forsythe, have also escalated harassment and surveillance efforts against Wet’suwet’en members in recent days.”
The release noted both the C-IRG and the security company are named as defendents in an ongoing lawsuit alleging harassment and intimidation meant to push Wet’suwet’en people off their lands.
It also pointed to the recent launch of a “systemic investigation” of the tactics and actions o f the C-IRG by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
The RCMP said Wednesday’s warrants were served at the Lamprey Provincial campground site and a location at 44.5 kilometres on the Morice Forest Service Road.
It said the five arrests were for obstruction of a police officer, alleging four people refused to cooperate with police direction and one tried to stop officers from executing the warrant.
In a statement, Coastal GasLink said the incident “continues to highlight acts of violence that have put people, property, and the environment at risk.”
“The many women and men on our project deserve to work in a safe environment, without fear of these dangerous acts, while they provide for their families and communities.”
The region has been the focus of tensions for years, as Coastal GasLink works to build a 670-kilometre pipeline from Dawson Creek to a gas export terminal in Kitimat.
While the 20 elected Indigenous councils along the pipeline route have signed benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink, they face opposition from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
Project opponents maintain that elected councils’ authority stems from the Indian Act and applies only to on-reserve matters, while hereditary chiefs retain authority over unceded land.
According to the company’s last construction update, issued Feb. 28, 84 per cent of the project has been completed.
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