An Indigenous camp was ordered Friday to remove a gate that’s blocking a bridge in northwestern B.C. and holding up a multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project.
Judge Marguerite Church of the B.C. Supreme Court sided with Coastal GasLink, a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp., which filed an injunction to get construction going on the $40-billion LNG Canada build.
“People were crying but I feel emboldened because we are getting so much support,” said Warner Naziel of the Indigenous Unist’ot’en Camp – a land-based healing centre on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory south of Houston, B.C.
The locked gate on the Morice River Bridge must come down within 72 hours, the judge ruled.
She described it as an “interim” injunction giving the company access while defendants Naziel, and his partner Freda Huson, mount a fuller defence to the injunction and additional civil suit.
Church said she will hear more arguments on Jan. 31.
“That gate is a safety issue for us,” said Naziel.
“We see the land there for healing – not for profit and monetary gain. It’s obvious the courts agree with that; they don’t understand what we’re doing.”
Coastal GasLink (CGL) told court it can’t re-route the pipeline.
It said it won’t disturb camp buildings and people can remain on site.
“The camp that’s there will remain as is,” said CGL spokesperson Jacquelynn Benson in an interview prior to the judge’s ruling.
“They should feel secure in knowing the camp’s operations will remain unaffected,” she said.
“We simply need to access that public bridge, that public access road, to work on a pipeline right-of-way.”
Benson reiterated the legal action was taken after camp operators and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs rebuffed repeated attempts to reach a solution.
“We’ve had 120 in-person meetings with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs over the last five years,” she said.
“And we’ve had upwards of around 1,000 interactions, which would be emails, phone calls.”
But the Unist’ot’en have refused to budge, saying they reject fossil fuel development on their land.
People carried this banner as they marched outside Prince George courthouse. (Facebook photo)
“I’m heartbroken,” said John Ridsdale, hereditary Chief Namoks, after the ruling.
“They have a right to commit violence against us to get what they want. The company can instruct the RCMP to come in. The last time we dealt with the RCMP they sent in over 200 members.”
That was Enbridge and its pipeline project, Ridsdale noted.
CGL told court it had a tight timeline and needed to start pre-construction work.
It needs to clear trees and do field work one kilometre south of where the bridge and camp are located.
“We appreciate the court’s decision today in providing us with an interim injunction to move forward with our pre-construction activities,” the company said in a statement late Friday.
“We understand that a delay in the project process means a delay in providing thousands of employment opportunities and millions of dollars in economic benefits to First Nations groups and local communities in B.C. who are counting on it.”
Twenty First Nations along the pipeline corridor have signed agreements with CGL supporting the project.
The company said it move forward “respectfully and safely.
“We understand there are individuals who do not share the same opinions about this project, and we respect that. We simply ask that their activities do not disrupt or jeopardize the safety of our employees and contractors, surrounding communities or even themselves,” it said.