Fourteen people were arrested Monday as police enforced a court injunction to remove blockades on the Morice West Forest Service Road south of Houston.
The Unist’ot’en Camp was erected in 2012 by the Wetsuwet’en to oppose pipelines in the Indigenous community’s traditional territory. On December 14, Coastal GasLink was granted an injunction allowing access to the area to start work on the pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. A second blockade was also erected at the Gitdumt’en camp, several kilometres from the Unist’ot’en Camp at the Morice River Bridge.
Just prior to 11 a.m. Monday, RCMP officers spoke with representatives of the Gitdumt’en camp about the removal of a road block that they have set up along the Morice West Forest Service Road. The RCMP also facilitated a meeting between Wetsuwet’en hereditary chiefs and Coastal GasLink in the hopes the issue could be resolved without police involvement. When it was determined that the matter could not be resolved, at 3 p.m. the RCMP proceeded to enter the blockade in order to facilitate open access to the service road.
As of 6:45 pm there were 14 persons arrested from the blockade set up by Gitdumt’en on Morice West Forest Service Road for various offences including alleged violations of the injunction order, according to an RCMP news release. All those arrested continue to be processed at this time. During the arrests, a number of fires were lit along the roadway and large trees felled across the roadway, according to RCMP.
According to the Unist’ot’en Camp website, Gidumt’en Clan spokesperson Molly Wickham was among those who were arrested. The Unist’ot’en are also referring to Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration Regarding Indigenous Peoples which says Indigenous people should not be forcibly removed for their territories.
“I am here in my home, on my land,” said Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en Dark House member, in a statement on its website. “I am not a criminal for protecting my most critical infrastructure which is my berries, my medicine, my water, my right to teach future Unist’ot’en generations how to live in right relationship with the land. Without water, no human will survive and these projects like TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink threatens the water. We are the land, the land is us.”
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen was at the blockade prior to the arrests and issued the following statement:
“Following conversations with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership, I intended today to travel to the Gidimt’en checkpoint to show my support for a peaceful resolution and continued dialogue between the RCMP and Wet’suwet’en. Together we were able to secure the passage of a number of Wet’suwet’en chiefs through the RCMP blockade to the Gidimt’en camp. I have been in contact with TransCanada, the BC and Canadian government as well as the RCMP to ask that all sides continue dialogue. I am calling on the federal government to engage with the Wet’suwet’en and demonstrate Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to real and meaningful reconciliation.”
Police say safety of everyone involved – protesters, police officers, area residents, motorists, media and general public – is their primary focus. This was done by creating a temporary exclusion zone, which under civil injunctions are similar to criminal search warrants, where the police do not allow access to anyone who is not part of the enforcement team.
RCMP also stress its role is to enforce the injunction and not to interfere with any ongoing discussion between Indigenous communities and any other level of government.
The RCMP also says that reports they were jamming communications in the area and that the Canadian military were present are “erroneous.”
“The area is extremely remote and even police had limited access to communication,” reads the RCMP statement. “Police officers, including members of Tactical and Emergency Response Teams, have been deployed as part of our measured and scalable approach to enforcing the court ordered injunction.”