By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
HOUSTON,BC–Officers from the Houston, B.C., RCMP detachment are investigating an explosion set off at the gates of an anti-pipeline blockade in the province’s interior.
A crude explosive device was detonated next to a sign leading to the blockade Monday evening by unknown individuals who fled the scene up a logging road in a vehicle.
“We have received a report this morning and have initiated an investigation,” said Sgt. Steven Rose, who is based in Houston.
Rose said investigators were treating it as an “isolated” incident. He said the local detachment would lead the investigation, but may request additional assistance from the district level.
“(The explosion) certainly changes the public perception of what the blockade represents,” said Rose. “From our police perspective, our role is to investigate any reports of damage, mischief or criminal offenses.”
The blockade is led by the Unist’ot’en clan who are part of the Wet’suwet’en people. The blockade was erected about 16 months ago on a forest service road to stop surveyors from entering the territory. The blockade is associated with a camp built several years ago near the path of three planned pipelines. The blockade sits about 66 kilometres south of Houston and about 1,000 km north of Vancouver.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Toghestiy said he and some others were watching the movie Oblivion in a cabin near the blockade when they heard an explosion at about 10:20 p.m. local time.
“We thought it was in the movie at first,” said Toghestiy. “It sounded like a gunshot behind me.”
They immediately shut off all the lights and the generator. Toghestiy said he then fired a warning shot in the air with his rifle and the group crept toward the bridge through the darkness. They saw taillights from a vehicle fleeing the scene.
“We spent probably two hours walking up alongside the road in the bush until we knew the place was secure,” he said.
Photos and video from the scene show a long burn trail leading to the site of the explosion at the wooden, hand-painted sign declaring, “stop, no access without consent.” The video, which was posted on YouTube, showed remains of what appear to be plastic bottles that were tied together with surveyor tape. Toghestiy said it appears gas was used to set off the explosion.
Toghestiy met with three RCMP officers Tuesday afternoon from the Houston RCMP detachment who took photographs of the burned-out area caused by the explosion and gathered pieces of the device for analysis in a lab.
“I had a good chance to sit down with them, the three of them to educate them on decolonizing their minds,” he said.
The blockade and camp were built to block the proposed Pacific Trails and Coastal Gas Links natural gas pipelines along with Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline which aims to pump Alberta tar sands bitumen to the Pacific Coast.
All three pipelines are mapped to run through an area about a kilometre from the camp. Toghestiy said a traditional pit house is being constructed on the pipelines’ route.
Monday night’s incident followed reports that locals in the area were planning to commit sabotage against the blockade.
Freda Hudson, who is of the Unist’ot’en clan, said a local hunter was recently stopped by police on his way back from the blockade sight. The hunter told people at the blockade that he was questioned by police about the blockade. The same hunter also said he had overheard other hunters who had been drinking that they were upset over the blockade and planned to deal with it themselves. There was also an incident with some locals who revved their engine and honked their horn at the blockade before spinning their tires and pulling away.
“Before we even got to the road we could hear them spinning out and they went to the police complaining we wouldn’t let them in,” said Hudson.
Rose said the incidents are not related.
“There is certainly information that has been given to us regarding historical conflicts or potential conflicts that have happened in the past couple of months, but it doesn’t really relate to the incident (Monday) night,” he said. “To draw a nexus between the two is far-fetched.”
Toghestiy said the camp is already on watch for surveyors attempting to slip past the blockade. He said a helicopter carrying sub-contractors landed behind the blockade about two months ago, but were quickly intercepted and turned away.
“It got quite heated,” he said. “I got really, really angry at them…I told them if they did it again things would accelerate really, really fast. They said they wouldn’t come back.”
Toghestiy also said an RCMP special investigative unit from Prince George, B.C., tried to enter the camp over the summer.
“We wouldn’t let them cross the bridge,” he said. “They just wanted to come in and poke their nose around.”
Toghestiy said the camp is seeking to raise funds to purchase sensor cameras they hope to set up along the road.