Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ and Jocelyn Alec, the daughter of hereditary chief Dinï ze’ Woos’s (Frank Alec) were among 20 people arrested in two days of raids on Wet’suwet’en territory over the weekend.
Police started the raids Friday as a number of heavily armed officers moved up the Morice River Service Road.
“Those arrested are all facing charges of civil contempt for breaching the terms of a BC Supreme Court injunction granted to Coastal GasLink (CGL),” said a release from Gidimt’en Checkpoint.
Opposition among Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to the 670 km pipeline route sparked rallies and rail blockades across Canada early last year, while the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others in the area have agreed to the project.
A memorandum of understanding had been signed between the hereditary chiefs and the federal and provincial governments, easing tensions up until now.
The pipeline would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to Kitimat. It is more than halfway finished with almost all of the route cleared and 200 km of pipeline installed, Coastal GasLink has said.
Gidimt’en is one of five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The Gidimt’en Checkpoint is a group which is controlling access to the territory and the “House Chiefs made the decision to support” them.
On Friday, an hour and a half away in New Hazelton, B.C., Gitxsan members held a solidarity rally with blockades on a railway.
“This is a consequence of your actions and you realize you’re making it worse,” yells Gitxsan member Kolin Sutherland-Wilson from a bridge to a group of RCMP officers moving in on the blockade.
Another woman confronted RCMP officers carrying assault rifles, tell them the people on the blockade are all unarmed.
Sutherland-Wilson describes a chaotic scene that unfolded at the protest.
“We saw a military invasion of Gitxsan Laxyip following a military invasion of Wet’suwet’en Yintah. We had tactical units here, sniper teams, assault riffles pointed at women and children, we had helicopters circling around,” he said.
“Busloads of RCMP imported to these territories to supress our people.”
Photojournalist released with conditions after arrest at pipeline dispute in B.C.
Also arrested on Wet’suwet’en territory on the weekend was Amber Bracken, a photographer with the publication The Narwhal – and documentary maker Michael Toledano.
A consortium of news outlets has written to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino demanding their release.
Late Monday, Bracken was released on the condition that she appear in court in February and that she complies with the terms of the injunction order first granted to Coastal GasLink by the same judge in December 2019.
In an open letter to Canada’s public safety minister posted Monday and signed by several dozen news outlets and press freedom organizations including APTN News, called for a “swift resolution respecting journalists’ fundamental rights.”
On Sunday, Mendicino said on Twitter that journalists play a role that is fundamental for democracy and they “must be able to work free from threats, intimidation or arbitrary state action.”
“As the courts have held, it would be wrong for any journalist to be arrested and detained simply for doing their vital work on our behalf,” he wrote.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Monday that a free press is critical to democracy and it was his hope that the situation would not escalate.
(1/4) I am aware of and am concerned about the fact two journalists remain in custody under a civil enforcement proceeding in relation to the Coastal Gas Link project, which falls under the jurisdiction of the BC government.
— Marco Mendicino (@marcomendicino) November 22, 2021
The province has been doing “a significant amount of work over the last number of months to try and de-escalate tensions in the area,” he told a news conference.
RCMP Spokesperson Cpl. Madonna Saunderson responded to APTN News with an email statement confirming two arrests at the CN Railway new New Hazelton, BC.
“On November 21, 2021, police were on scene of a protest near the CN Rail tracks outside New Hazelton. One person, seen placing obstacles on the tracks and after refusing to leave, was arrested for civil contempt of court and mischief,” the statement read.
She added another was arrested for trying to stop an officer from making the arrest.
“Another person attempted to intervene during the arrest and was arrested for obstruction. Both individuals were later released,” she added.
With files from the Canadian Press