The B.C. RCMP’s industry response squad spent almost $1 million protecting the Coastal GasLink pipeline in less than two months as construction on Wet’suwet’en territory entered final phases last winter.
Operations included a two-day November raid and planning for an aborted follow-up incursion to seize a pipeline drill site that activists reoccupied on Dec. 19, 2021, internal police communications show.
Pipeline workers had all gone home for the holidays, removing equipment as they went, leaving the site otherwise empty save for a few private security guards, the records reveal. But that didn’t stop the Mounties from prepping another operation.
“A group of protestors moved onto the Marten [Forest Service Road near Houston] with vehicles,” Chief Supt. John Brewer, gold commander of the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) told his bosses. “They threatened on-site security verbally and physically. As there is no planned work, equipment or workers in that area due to the holidays, security left.”
In an email to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and B.C. RCMP brass, Brewer said members of the C-IRG’s quick response and liaison teams visited at first light but were met by camouflage-clad activists who would only speak with Hereditary Chief Woos.
Brewer added he was in contact with Coastal GasLink’s vice president of operations, who confirmed all equipment was removed and work stopped the previous day.
“This area has been undergoing preparation work for drilling under the river to start in February,” Brewer reported. “CIRG will begin planning to remove any protestors at the site as soon as practicable.”
APTN News obtained the email under federal access to information law along with a breakdown of how much cash the C-IRG — a five-year-old outfit the B.C. RCMP established to police protests against resource extraction — spent during the latest round of resistance.
The chart says the group spent $943,234 between Nov. 1 and Dec. 23. Under B.C.’s policing contract with the federal government, the two crowns split emergency policing costs 70/30, with the province shouldering the majority.
Brewer had pressed public safety officials to hastily greenlight enforcement operations by declaring a provincial emergency the morning of Nov. 15, just as residents of B.C.’s lower mainland awoke to catastrophic floods.
“I need to move resources now,” Brewer said, explaining he needed emergency powers to send Mounties from other detachments north. “Time is of the essence.”
Officials with B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety reacted immediately. Senior bureaucrats obtained verbal approval from Minister Mike Farnworth in less than two hours, the documents show.
“We need to leverage this and get resources moving,” Brewer responded, saying blockaded work camps were running low on “life support” and supplies. “According to CGL the mood at the camps with the workers and rationing is already not good.”
While ministry officials prepared the C-IRG’s formal authorization letter, the force began corralling cops for the operation. On Nov. 18, Eric Stubbs, B.C. RCMP acting commanding officer, wrote mayors and municipal authorities telling them their officers might be needed.
The operation to dismantle the blockade began that day and continued through Nov. 19. The C-IRG deployed a heavily armed SWAT team, riot squad, dog unit and helicopter. At one point, the group used an axe and chainsaw to hack through a wood hut filled with people.
But the battle was back on a month later. On Dec. 19, the Wet’suwet’en Likhts’amisyu (Fireweed) Clan twitter account announced the contested drill site, dubbed Coyote Camp, was reoccupied.
In the early morning hours, a situational update was circulated internally to several RCMP email addresses and C-IRG senior officers.
It outlined some of the outfit’s strategic considerations: for example, that the holidays may limit capacity to engage with government or that renewed resistance may boost a planned solidarity demonstration in Gitxsan territory.
But the RCMP’s raid plans were rendered moot when Coyote Camp members got wind of them and, rather than tussle with Brewer’s C-IRG once again, retreated after the holidays.
“Cops are left with an empty camp,” the Gidimt’en Checkpoint declared on Jan. 6, 2022. “We will continue to fight Coastal GasLink, but can not do so if all of our warriors are taken as political prisoners.”
Sleydo' speaks about the strategic retreat of Coyote Camp, as RCMP mobilize to invade unceded #Wetsuweten land again: "Our warriors are not here to be arrested. Our warriors are here to protect the land and water and will continue to do so at all cost."#AllOutForWedzinKwa pic.twitter.com/wEvV37qCY2
— Gidimt’en Checkpoint (@Gidimten) January 5, 2022
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, in a previous interview with APTN, said documents like these expose an “industry driven” approach to policing where private corporate interests take precedence over Indigenous rights and the environment.
“They get a rubber stamp. We’re protecting the environment,” he said, “and they’re supporting industry. That’s with the help of the provincial and federal government. They know exactly what they’re doing.”
Senior federal officials were indeed closely tracking events, including links between Mohawk activists and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, fearing a repeat of 2020’s countrywide solidarity protests, according to an unclassified internal memo previously reported by APTN.
Na’Moks said the money and men used on the C-IRG’s northern Coastal GasLink operations would’ve been better spent on flood response. In fact, the two emergencies were declared simultaneously, letters obtained under B.C.’s freedom of information law reveal.
Farnworth granted the RCMP emergency powers to redeploy to address the floods on Nov. 19, one day after Stubbs sent his letter to the mayors discussing Coastal GasLink.
Months later, when drilling was slated to begin in mid-February, RCMP announced an investigation into a confrontation between masked assailants, pipeline workers and private security.
Police called it a “very troubling escalation in violent criminal activity” that left workers shaken and millions of dollars worth of equipment damaged or destroyed.
No one has claimed responsibility, and police have released footage of the altercation but nothing more since.