“Obviously it’s not an ideal situation,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on a CBC radio program Wednesday morning.
Those were Trudeau’s first public words in response to the RCMP raid of a Wet’su’weten checkpoint near Houston, B.C. on Monday, ending in 14 arrests.
The RCMP was acting on an injunction sought by TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink to build a gas pipeline in the area. Wet’suwet’en organizers from the Gitumt’en clan built a checkpoint across a logging road to prevent Coastal GasLink workers from accessing their worksites. While band leaders have signed deals with the company, organizers say that the land is under the control of hereditary chiefs, who have not consented to the project. Gitumt’en members have called enforcement of the injunction “an act of war.”
The arrests made international news, prompting demonstrations across the country Tuesday in support of the Indigenous land defenders. An intense protest in Ottawa led Trudeau to move his meeting to another building.
“How do you feel about that? Are you happy with the police moving in to remove protesters?” the CBC host asked.
“No, obviously it’s not an ideal situation,” Trudeau answered. “But we have to remember that 100 years ago, if the government decided, well the railway’s going here, nobody was consulted, the government could just do this. That is not the way we do things anymore, it’s not the way we should do things anymore.”
He said his government has been working on reconciliation and building partnerships with First Nations. “This is still an ongoing process that we’re working on. There are a number of people in communities who are supportive, there are a number of folks who disagree with it, and I think it’s important to leave room for people to express their concerns and be heard and be listened to. But at the same time, we’re also a country of the rule of law, and the courts weigh in and say, you know, that we need to get things done and we need to move forward, we also have to abide by that, so getting that balance right in a respectful, safe way, I think is what all Canadians expect, regardless of what side of this debate they’re on.”
He said he won’t be able to visit the site of the standoff between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en organizers. “I think one of the things that is really important is to try and reduce the temperature a bit, and sometimes engaging that way is actually raising the political attention and the stakes in something we want to push toward better understanding, better listening, and shift our processes so that everyone can feel included. Whether or not they agree with the final decision, people should be engaged in thoughtful ways in how we get to that decision all together.”
Trudeau is in Kamloops B.C. Wednesday to host a town hall, happening at 7 p.m. local time. He told CBC he expected to hear “a huge range of issues” at the town hall. He said Canadians are welcome to “come and ask questions to the prime minister.” He called it “a really important exercise in democracy.”
As Trudeau prepares for the town hall, organizers at Unist’ot’en Camp are bracing for another RCMP raid. Unist’ot’en has their own checkpoint further up the road, and after the RCMP broke down the Gitumt’en checkpoint, they fear their camp could be next.
Coastal GasLink is attempting to assuage those fears. On Tuesday, president Rick Gateman wrote in a letter posted on the company’s website: “Our only goal was and is access to the bridge and public road so our teams can travel to our pipeline right of way one kilometre away from the camp. Construction and pre-construction will not impact the camp. In fact, the camp can continue with its activities. Our pipeline right of way isn’t near the camp, and does not overlap or directly affect it.”
Cover image: Hundreds of people gathered in support of the Unist' ot' en camp and Wet' suwet' en people during their standoff near Houston, B.C. as they protest against the LNG pipeline during a rally at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (Photo by Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)