Question Period Note: Coastal Gaslink Pipeline Protests
- Reference number:
- Date received:
- Nov 25, 2021
- Public Safety Canada
- Name of Minister:
- Mendicino, Marco (Hon.)
- Title of Minister:
- Minister of Public Safety
Journalists arrested in relation to the Wet’suwet’en Coastal GasLink (CGL) protests.
• The RCMP respects and protects the right to peaceful demonstrations as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,
• I am aware of the arrest of two individuals who identified themselves as journalists after being arrested and who have since been released from custody.
• Journalists play a role that is essential and fundamental to democracy in informing the public, challenging the status quo and fostering dialogue on matters of public interest.
• The RCMP employs a measured approach that involves proactive engagement, communication, and facilitation measures by police to support lawful and peaceful protest in an environment safe for protesters, members of the public, and stakeholders, while seeking to protect the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.
• The RCMP remains committed to ensuring that the media have access to observe and report on peaceful, lawful and safe demonstrations.
• The level of police intervention that is applied in any situation is done so in the context of a careful risk assessment that accounts for the likelihood and extent of potential injury and damage to property.
• The RCMP will continue to preserve the peace, protect life and property, and enforce the law, while maintaining police intervention as a last resort.
Two journalists were arrested on November 19 2021 at the Marten Forest Service Road (FSR) Protest Camp. These individuals were inside structures referred to as “tiny houses” at the time of their arrest. On November 25 2021 a journalist released a video showing the arrests. However, the video does not show what occurred preceding RCMP members’ breach of the structures. RCMP officers read the injunction at each structure, and made several calls, over the course of more than an hour, for occupants to exit the structure. The only response from inside the structures were derogatory in nature and refusals. It was not until RCMP officers entered the structures and arrested the individuals that they identified themselves as journalists. The journalists were provided access to counsel and processed for appearance before Justice Church. The standard used by the RCMP for assessment for arrest involving journalists is the 2019 Brake decision. This standard was recently brought forward by Justice Thompson during the Fairy Creek protests, and defines journalists and persons from media outlets as those who are “not actively assisting, participating with or advocating for the protesters about whom the reports are being made; does no act that could reasonably be considered as aiding or abetting the protesters in their protest actions or in breaching any order that has been already made; [and] is not otherwise obstructing or interfering with those seeking to enforce the law or any order that has already been made or is not otherwise interfering with the administration of justice.” Both individuals were released from custody, but one journalist was re-arrested on November 22 2021 after assaulting a BC Sheriff, in an incident unrelated to the CGL protests.
The Coastal GasLink (CGL) Pipeline project is a proposed 670 km pipeline to deliver natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, British Columbia. As part of its engagement with impacted Indigenous groups, CGL concluded 20 benefit agreements with Indigenous groups along the pipeline route, including with four of the five Wet’suwet’en Indian Act bands. Although all the Wet’suwet’en band councils are in agreement with the project, as it would bring financial benefits to their communities, the Hereditary Chiefs, represented by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW), are in opposition, since the proposed route goes through their traditional territory, to which they assert Aboriginal title. This created a sharp divide in the Wet’suwet’en community and led to protests and blockades.
On December 14, 2018, CGL obtained an Interim Injunction with a Police Enforcement Order to prevent interference with the company’s operations. This injunction, intended to prevent anyone from interfering with CGL’s legal right to conduct their work, contains an enforcement clause that authorizes the RCMP to arrest any person that they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe is contravening the injunction. The RCMP retains the discretion as to the timing and manner of enforcement. Despite continued dialogue with the OW, who are opposed to the pipeline, protestors demonstrated that they would neither permit the company nor the police to enter the area. The RCMP enforced the Injunction on January 7, 2019, dismantled the protestors’ barricade and arrested fourteen (14) individuals, drawing criticism from Indigenous communities and other sectors. In the intervening period, a joint protocol brokered by the RCMP between CGL and Hereditary Chiefs was developed to grant both CGL and the Wet’suwet’en access to the area, the latter for the purpose of traditional activities.
However, on December 31, 2019, subsequent to a second CGL application, the BC Supreme Court vacated the above Interim Injunction and replaced it with an interlocutory version (an Order that is valid until trial). On January 4, 2020, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs ordered CGL to vacate the territory. The RCMP enforced the interim injunction on February 7, 2020, and over the next three days arrested twenty-two (22) individuals. In response, various groups across the country set up protests and blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en. One of these, a railway blockade on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario, halted railway activity between Montreal and Toronto for a protracted period. This led to an escalation of rail and road blockades across the country for a number of weeks. On May 14, 2020, high-level talks between the provincial and federal governments and the Wet’suwet’en led to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to guide future negotiations on Indigenous rights and title.
Online rhetoric increased throughout fall 2021, with increased calls for mobilization, leading to protestors once again establishing themselves in the area. The RCMP has maintained a measured approach to avoid escalation while being proactively engaged, through maintaining contact with Hereditary Chief Woos (Frank Alec) of the Gidimt’en Clan to seek a peaceful resolution. The recent arrival of several known individuals from other major Canadian Indigenous protests have amplified the situation; an increase in inflamed rhetoric making public references to “war” and direct action against police and industry have been prominent on social media amongst key members of the protest groups, and at protest sites. Despite assurances from Chief Woos that he would work for a peaceful resolution, protest activities are becoming increasingly charged. Protestors, and their associated groups, have called for direct action against police and others in previous confrontations.
CGL is now attempting to conduct site preparation work to drill under the Morice River near the 63.5 km of the Morice Forest Service Road (MFSR). This is in the area of the Unist’ot’en Healing Camp in Wet’suwet’en traditional territory. On the morning of November 14, 2021, members of the Gidimt’en Clan announced they were evicting CGL employees from Wet’suwet’en territory. Shortly after, the RCMP reported three blockades had been set up along MFSR, located near Smithers, BC, which provides access to CGL’s construction sites. As a result, approximately 700 workers were stranded behind the blockades, with limited access to essential supplies.
The RCMP Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) moved into the area and carefully assessed the situation throughout the week. Enforcement action was viewed as a last resort, so as to not further escalate the situation. On November 18, 2021, the RCMP made a decision to mobilize resources to rescue the workers stranded behind the blockades. The RCMP’s actions are consistent with the interlocutory injunction order issued by the BC Supreme Court in December 2019, which remains in force.
Federal officials are continuing discussions with provincial officials, Wet'suwet'en Nation and Hereditary Chiefs, and CGL with a view of de-escalating the situation and ensuring the safety of all who are on site, and to determine appropriate next steps.
In a related incident, on the afternoon of November 14, 2021, a protest on Canadian National Railway tracks in the proximity of New Hazelton, BC, was also reported. Fifteen protestors were reported to be on the tracks and also blocked the highway, and stated that the protest was to support the eviction of CGL from Wet’suwet’en territory. A total of four trains were stopped by evening before full service resumed on the afternoon of November 15, 2021. There have been other calls for solidarity protests to be organized to support the protests on Wet’suwet’en territory. Police enforcement of the injunction order granted to CGL began on November 18, 2021 in an effort to rescue hundreds of workers who had been blocked in their camp by contemnors. As of November 19, 2021, the Morice Forest Service Road (FSR) is open to traffic and industry is continuing convoy supply and personnel runs to their camps. However, there remains ongoing protest activity in New Hazelton, with contemnors attempting to block trains.