The RCMP in British Columbia say that people in the camps in the disputed area on the unceded Wet’suwet’en territory can choose to leave on their own, or be arrested.
The Mounties said at a news conference Wednesday they have no choice but to enforce a Dec. 31 injunction handed down by a B.C. court.
The police said people who are arrested will be taken away without handcuffs, or carried out if needed.
“We have chosen to followed a measured approach that has included over five weeks of discussions with the effected parties,” said RCMP Assistant Comm. and Criminal Operations Officer Eric Stubbs.
“As enforcement of the injunction nears, we have assembled a team in the area. If there are arrests to be made, there are peaceful options that will require a minimal use of force.”
Stubbs said people can voluntarily be arrested an no handcuffs will be used or they can be carried out.
But he also issued a warning.
“If those scenarios do not occur, our members will respond to the behaviors presented before them.”
For weeks, RCMP helicopters have been flying overhead and a police checkpoint limits access to the region that hereditary chiefs say they hold sole title to the unceded lands and do not support the pipeline.
Talks that were intended to de-escalate a dispute over Coastal GasLink’s 670 km pipeline that will carry fracked natural gas from Dawson Creek in north eastern British Columbia to the Kitimat on the coast have failed after just two days.
Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation said they had agreed to seven days of negotiations with the provincial government in hopes of reaching a peaceful resolution that would avoid RCMP enforcement of an injunction on the First Nation’s traditional territory.
Hereditary Chief Woos, who also goes by Frank Alec, said Wednesday he expects enforcement of an injunction in the disputed area is now “imminent.”
Woos said the talks were modeled around the nation’s “Wiggus” process, named for a word that loosely translates to “respect.” The process is rooted in trust and honesty and involves looking at issues together rather than beginning in oppositional positions.
The chiefs raised concerns during the meetings about the RCMP’s growing presence in the region, which Woos estimated has included 60 to 100 officers congregating in neighbouring towns and regular fly overs of the disputed area.
Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser and Woos both said Wednesday the talks were respectful but unsuccessful.
“All of us are concerned about safety so that’s one of the common themes,” Fraser said in an interview from the airport in Smithers, the town where the meetings were held.
“What I was hoping that we all could agree to was even a temporary access protocol agreement similar to what was in place a year ago and to allow the company access, which is what the courts had ordered basically in its injunction.”
Fourteen people were arrested more than a year ago when RCMP enforced an injunction that allowed pre-construction across Wet’suwet’en territory for the $6.6-billion natural gas pipeline, a key part of the provincially approved $40-billion LNG Canada development.
Following the enforcement, the chiefs reached a deal to allow workers temporary access to the site.
Fraser said the chiefs asked if the province would withdraw the environmental certificate it granted Coastal GasLink, but he said that wasn’t an option.
“I explained that the project was given the OK in 2018. The project is underway, the courts have affirmed that the company has the legal right to work in the territory, so we had frank discussions about all of that.”
After the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs responded by issuing the company an eviction notice in early January, arguing the company was violating traditional Wet’suwet’en laws.
There has been increasing tension since then, with RCMP saying traps “likely to cause bodily harm,” including notched trees and stockpiles of fuel, had been found along a forest service road leading to the pipeline construction area.
When the talks were announced last Thursday, RCMP said they would not take action to enforce the injunction by removing obstructions on the forest service road for seven days.
E Division commanding officer Deputy Comm. Jennifer Strachan said ending the protest without violence is their main goal.
“We, the RCMP, share that concern and believe there are ways for safe, peaceful and lawful discourse or dissent without violence.”
Police didn’t say when officers would move to enforce the injunction.
Both Woos and Fraser said they are open to continued dialogue, however Woos said it should include Premier John Horgan, three more cabinet ministers and RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki _ a suggestion that Fraser said is unlikely in the near future on the government’s end given that Parliament is back in session next week.
Coastal GasLink said in a statement that its senior leadership team has been in Smithers since Sunday to meet with the chief if required but were unable to do so.
The company needs to quickly resume construction activities in the area to meet the project schedule, it said.
“Coastal GasLink appreciates the time, effort and energy taken by Minister Scott Fraser and his staff, the Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en and liaison Nathan Cullen to try and find a peaceful resolution to the issues at hand,” the company said in a statement.
“We are disappointed that discussions have ended without a resolution that would prevent the enforcement of the interlocutory injunction.”
-with files from the Canadian Press