Ottawa fears a repeat of rail blockades in 2020 before the seizure of the BC pipeline last fall

Federal officials fear a repeat of the 2020 rail blockade a month before the RCMP enforced the ban last fall against protests that cut off access to a pipeline construction site in northern British Columbia.

There is also concern that people from other Indigenous land rights protests have come to the site, including “Mohawk warriors”.

Details of the rising tensions surrounding the construction of the 670-kilometer Coastal GasLink gas pipeline are outlined in brief notes prepared for federal officials ahead of a meeting with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. .

The documents were released to the Canadian Press through federal access to information legislation.

They outline how Lucki requested an October 19 meeting with department heads of Canada’s Indigenous Services and Thai-Indigenous Relations to discuss the “recent escalation” of the protests. with a natural gas pipeline under construction on the territory of Wet’suwet’en.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have opposed the project for years, while 20 First Nations band councils along the pipeline have signed on to the project.

Opponents of the pipeline have set up barricades along forest service roads to prevent workers from passing and have faced police and court orders for its owner, TC Energy. .

The summary notes show that federal officials were monitoring the situation carefully last October after they noted activity once again improved.

The officials wrote: “Small-scale protests have been held in recent days in various parts of the country in support of hereditary chiefs.

In February 2020 – weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing the country to close for the first time – protesters began blocking railways and other major transport routes in support of those was arrested by the RCMP in northern BC, when officials enforced a court order barring people from blocking access to Coastal GasLink construction sites.

One of the most worrisome blockades for governments and industry has taken place in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory along a section of the Canadian National Railway between Montreal and Toronto. The police finally cleared the area at the end of February after train traffic was halted for several weeks.

Last October, a document titled, “Royal Canadian Police Situation Report,” provided before a meeting with Lucki identified the presence of someone involved in the blockade. Tyendinaga was traveling to northern BC, with four other people from Ontario and several US citizens.

“One person participated in a Six-Country protest in Ontario known as ‘Back Road 1492’,” the report reads. There was also “mention of the ‘war’ against the police.”

“Given the latest update and the alleged involvement of members of the Mohawk Nation from Ontario, it’s highly likely that violence and disinformation across Canada is similar or greater than what has been reported. seen in early 2020.”

About a month after the October 19 meeting, the RCMP released another round of blockade set up by members of the Gidimt’en clan, one of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s five members. A photojournalist and documentary filmmaker were among those arrested at the location.

In February, the RCMP responded to reports of damaged equipment and an attack on security guards at a pipeline construction site. Before getting there, Mounties said officers were stopped in the street by flames when a group of people allegedly threw flaming sticks at them.

Since then, the RCMP has increased its presence at a campsite on the wooded road leading to the pipeline construction site, with officers visiting four to eight times per day for the past six weeks, Sleydo’, spokesman for the group organizing the blockade.

“Their main goal is to try to remove us from the territory, make it uninhabitable and intolerable to the point where we won’t be on the territory anymore. And that’s not what’s going to happen. out”, Sleydo’, who also gives his English name as Molly Wickham.

“We will continue to occupy our territory and abide by our laws.”

When asked about the use of the term “war” mentioned in federal briefing documents, Sleydo’ said it’s “completely consistent with what we’ve been through.”

“There were helicopters flying over, there were tactical squads, there were K9 units, like, it’s war. And the way colonization happened on our territory … and the politics of it. government using RCMP is already war.”

The RCMP said Wednesday that it has maintained a presence along the forest service road since 2019 and increased patrols around the industry and “other camps” along the route following the confrontation in February.

“We want to make sure that violations of the Penal Code (obstruction, mischief, etc.) will not be committed and that individuals with court-ordered conditions will not violate the conditions. there,” Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said in a statement.

“The officers encountered a number of individuals who were believed to be conditional and (who) refused to take off their face coverings. They were arrested for obstruction but released without charge after identity confirmation. “

Hereditary chiefs and their supporters say elected band councils have jurisdiction over their reserve lands, but no more than 22,000 square kilometers of Wet’suwet territory’ en never surrendered.

“The highest courts in Canada have recognized that hereditary heads have jurisdiction and title,” said Sleydo.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires governments to obtain free, prior and informed consent before taking actions affecting Indigenous Peoples and their lands, she noted.

BC passed legislation in late 2019 requiring the province to align its law with the declaration, a process that will take years to complete.

The federal government passed similar legislation last year.

This Canadian Press report was first published on April 21, 2022.

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