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Province calls for ‘de-escalation’ of blocades on Morice River Forest Service Road

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth

The province is calling for peaceful de-escalation of blockades on the Morice River Forest Service Road.

On Sunday, members of the Gidimt’en clan ordered all Coastal GasLink employees to leave the Wet’suwet’en territory. At 8 a.m. Sunday, clan members told workers they had eight hours to “peacefully evacuate” the area before the main road into the Lhudis Bin territory was closed at 1 p.m.

The development comes 50 days after the establishment of Coyote Camp, which halted efforts by Coastal GasLink to build an essential part of the 670-kilometre pipeline that would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to Kitimat in the province’s North Coast region.

Gidimet’en checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ (Molly Wickam) said in a press release that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have “never ceded, surrendered, or lost title to the territory” and that Coastal GasLink employees have been breaching both Indigenous law and an eviction notice that was issued nearly two years ago.

For its part, Coastal GasLink said, in a press release, that a January 7, 2020 B.C. Supreme Court injunction allows the company to have “continued safe access” to the area.

“This is in the same region where the group has illegally blockaded a Coastal GasLink worksite, in defiance of the B.C. Supreme Court injunction, since Sept. 25,” the release said.

Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said the province is concerned about the 500 workers trapped behind the blockads. He issued the following statement:

“Yesterday’s blockades of the Morice River Forest Service Road have put at risk emergency access and the delivery of critical services to more than 500 Coastal GasLink workers, and the good faith commitments made between the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the Province of B.C. to develop a new relationship based on respect.

“The B.C. government is calling on all those involved to de-escalate the current confrontation and move quickly to eliminate the blockades through peaceful means.

“For many years, the province has attempted to facilitate discussions between Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and representatives of Coastal GasLink project. This fall, in response to protests and police enforcement of the injunction related to the pipeline project, the government engaged former President of the Haida Nation, Order of Canada recipient and respected Indigenous leader Miles Richardson as an interlocutor to encourage dialogue among the parties. Unfortunately, despite our government’s best efforts, these initiatives have not been successful.

“Blockades have now been established by project opponents in violation of the current court injunction. Obstructions on the roads have effectively cut off safe access, support and security for more than 500 workers.

“Our government is concerned about the health, safety and well-being of those workers as the obstructions on the roads prevent access in and out of the worksites. The right to protest does not extend to criminal actions.

“Over the past three years, the Coastal GasLink project has been under construction and providing jobs and economic opportunities for thousands of people across northern British Columbia, including First Nations communities.

“The Coastal GasLink project has all the permits necessary for the work currently underway and the project is now over 50% complete. More than $1.25 billion has been invested in British Columbia to date, which includes more than $1 billion being awarded to Indigenous-owned businesses or joint venture partnerships. Coastal GasLink has project agreements with all 20 elected chiefs and councils of the First Nations along the pipeline route. The Province has also secured agreements with the vast majority of First Nations along the route.

“There are approximately 5,000 individuals working on the project.

“Open, transparent, and timely communication with First Nations, including the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, has been the guiding principle of government. It remains the only way forward.

“To ensure the safety of all, we remain committed to a peaceful resolution.”

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