The RCMP have set up a police checkpoint outside of a Wet’suwet’en First Nation site that evicted a gas company earlier this month.
Police vehicles blocked off Morice West Forest Service Road on Monday, signaling the beginning of a likely confrontation between Mounties and five First Nation clan leaders who assert their right and title over 22,000 square kilometres of land outside of Smithers, British Columbia.
The checkpoint came amid ongoing talks between cops, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and the pipeline company Coastal GasLink, according to an RCMP statement released Monday evening. Director-in-charge Dawn Roberts said safety is the RCMP’s top concern, and that Indigenous leaders, accredited journalists, and people delivering food supplies would still be permitted to enter if they cooperate with police.
Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for one of the five Wet’suwet’en clans, said the roadblock follows the playbook of an RCMP raid that evicted 14 land defenders last year. In a Facebook video posted Monday, Wickham said she expected lines of communication to be cut off next.
“This is exactly what they did the last time before they raided,” she said. “They set up an exclusion zone, and they cut off all access—all internet access, all communications. And so we need to keep watch on what’s going on right now.” In January 2019, RCMP were prepared to use lethal force against Wet’suwet’en land defenders, according to the Guardian.
Social media posts by Wet’suwet’en supporters claim the RCMP checkpoint has already turned away media and supply vehicles.
“RCMP says they will allow certain people in and out of the territory, provided they are willing to be identified, served an injunction, and detained on the way out,” Unist’ot’en Camp tweeted Monday. “RCMP are not honoring these terms on the ground… Mainstream media reporters were denied access earlier today.”
Longtime Unist’ot’en camp supporter Cody Merriman posted a Facebook video of an exchange with police at the roadblock Monday evening. In the clip an officer wearing a bodycam said that hereditary chiefs have been advised to give prior notice if they plan to come through the checkpoint.
The legal status of land defenders currently occupying the site remains in dispute. A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the Wet’suwet’en must comply with a court order to evacuate by Friday, January 10, to make way for pipeline construction. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders argue it’s Coastal GasLink and the RCMP that have breached an eviction notice issued January 5. The Wet’suwet’en are emboldened by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that defined Aboriginal title in 1997.
If the injunction is enforced and the Coastal GasLink project moves forward, it will transport liquefied natural gas from B.C.’s northeastern interior to a terminal in Kitimat, B.C. The project has been approved by the provincial government and 20 band offices along the route, but the Wet’suwet’en hereditary government has vowed to stop the pipeline from ever being completed.
On Monday evening, a Wet’suwet’en spokesperson announced hereditary chiefs have submitted a formal request for the United Nations to monitor RCMP activity. The statement described an increase in foot patrols, drone surveillance and fly-overs.
Wickham called the police checkpoint a violation of human rights and Indigenous rights. “Start your sacred fires, start preparing for their next steps,” she said.
Despite the increase in police presence, the RCMP warned against speculating about any planned enforcement.
“We remain committed to facilitating the ongoing dialogue between Indigenous communities, Coastal GasLink and Government, in the hopes that these efforts will result in a safe and peaceful outcome.”
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