This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Canada’s public safety minister said that federal police have offered to move away from Wet'suwet'en territory in hopes that blockades come down, but that offer comes with a significant condition.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters the RCMP is willing to move its operations to a nearby town, provided the Wet’suwet’en do not disrupt the construction of the $6 billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.
“It is dependent on the road remaining clear,” he said.
On the steps of Parliament Thursday, reporters asked Blair about one of the major requests from the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary leaders—to get RCMP off their territory. It’s under this condition that the chiefs, who oppose pipeline construction on their ancestral lands, have said they will advise cross-country rail blockades to stand down.
Blair responded that the RCMP has offered to change its “profile” in the area. He said that one of the top cops in B.C. reached out to hereditary chiefs to say police are willing to move operations to Houston, B.C. “I think the RCMP have made a very sound operational decision,” Blair told reporters.
Jennifer Wickham, a representative of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, told VICE that the condition to keep the road clear “is not what the chiefs asked for.”
“Although the exclusion zone is down, although the checkpoint is down, the RCMP continue to monitor and heavily surveil our people, coming into our camps, coming into our homes, shining lights into our faces,” Molly Wickham, spokesperson for the Gidimt’en clan, said at a press conference immediately following Blair’s statement. She added that hereditary chiefs had not been contacted directly about the offer, and called the media strategy “disrespectful.”
“Respectfully, our chiefs and our clans require full engagement,” Wickham said.
VICE reached out to Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks to ask whether the proposed profile change would be enough to end rail blockades that have shut down hundreds of trains nationwide, but did not immediately hear back.
Chief Smogelgem pushed back on the RCMP offer on Twitter, pointing to an eviction notice the hereditary chiefs issued to police and Coastal GasLink workers in January. "They are trying to instruct us to continue letting CGL do their work and ignore the eviction that we served them with," he tweeted.
The federal government is under pressure to immediately resolve the issue, as the blockades are costing the Canadian economy millions of dollars a day, and CN Rail and Via Rail have both temporarily laid off hundreds of employees.
VICE has reached out to the RCMP for further comment. This story will be updated with responses.
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This story has been updated to include response by Chief Smogelgem, also known as Warner Naziel.