VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, February 14, 2020 (ENS) – Forty indigenous land and water protectors and non-indigenous activists were arrested in British Columbia and across Canada on Monday, while they were protesting a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline that would run through the unceded tribal lands of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia.
Blockades shut down passenger and commercial railcars in Montreal and Vancouver, British Columbia, and additionally blocked traffic in Saskatchewan.
Canadian National Railway, CN Rail, announced today that it will stop and secure all trans-continental trains across Canada and its entire Eastern Canada network due to the pipeline protest blockades. Via Rail has canceled intercity passenger trains nationwide.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the rule of law must prevail after railway blockades across Canada forced the CN Rail shutdown.
CN has obtained court orders and requested the assistance of enforcement agencies to remove the blockades in Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia. While the blockades have come to an end in Manitoba and may be ending in British Columbia, the orders of the court in Ontario have yet to be enforced and continue to be ignored.
“With over 400 trains canceled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protestors,” said J.J. Ruest, president and chief executive officer at CN.
“This situation is regrettable for its impact on the economy and on our railroaders as these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities, and beyond our control,” said Ruest. “Our shutdown will be progressive and methodical to ensure that we are well set up for recovery, which will come when the illegal blockades end completely.”
“Unfortunately, intercity Via Rail service will be discontinued across our Canadian network. However, commuter rail services, such as Metrolinx and Exo, can keep operating so long as they can do so safely. I would like to thank our customers, international supply-chain partners, and industry associations for their support to get this unprecedented ordeal resolved,” concluded Ruest.
Early Monday morning, police raided a ceremony to honor missing and murdered indigenous women. At least 100 militarized police with assault rifles and dogs were deployed against unarmed Wet’suwet’en land defenders on unceded indigenous land.
Among those arrested were the matriarchs of the Unist’ot’en clan, one of five clans within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, as well as several tribal leaders. The Unist’ot’en Camp exists to uphold the clan’s decision to prevent all pipelines from entering their unceded lands.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs called the raids “senseless violence.” Its President, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said, “We are in absolute outrage and a state of painful anguish as we witness the Wet’suwet’en people having their title and rights brutally trampled on and their right to self-determination denied.”
Indigenous and young people have organized sit-ins in key government offices across the country, including at Prime Minister Trudeau’s constituency office in Montreal.
Indigenous land protectors say that the pipeline construction efforts and arrests are a violation of Canadian as well as international law, as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Land protectors maintain that the project violates traditional law of the Wet’suwet’en tribe.
The gas pipeline at issue, to be built by Coastal GasLink, would span 670 kilometres (416 miles) of northern British Columbia, carrying natural gas extracted near the city of Dawson Creek west to a facility at Kitimat on the Pacific Coast.
Their plans call for LNG Canada to prepare it for export to global markets by converting the gas to a liquefied state known as LNG. Coastal GasLink will not be producing or exporting LNG. The company says its only role is to ensure the safe transportation of natural gas.
TC Energy was selected by LNG Canada in 2012 to design, build, own and operate Coastal GasLink. Over the years, the company has received several approvals from the province of British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Office and Oil and Gas Commission to proceed with pipeline construction, the latest being the Environmental Assessment Office’s approval of a five-year extension to the previously issued Environmental Assessment Certificate.
The company says “the approved Coastal GasLink route was determined by considering Indigenous, landowner and stakeholder input, the environment, archaeological and cultural values, land use compatibility, safety, constructability and economics.”
The indigenous people have managed to hold off Coastal GasLink’s pipeline construction efforts for years, and Monday’s solidarity actions are the latest in a series of indigenous-led stand-offs between resource extraction companies and the first stewards of the land.
The company behind the C$6.2 billion pipeline, Coastal GasLink, said it has the permission of elected tribal councils to build. But the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation refused to allow CoastalGasLink, which is owned by TC Energy, formerly TransCanada Energy, onto their land.
When the company said it has permission from Wet’suwet’en band councils to build the pipeline, the chiefs responded that they alone are entitled to permit such a project, and they did not do so.
Each Wet’suwet’en clan retains the right to control and occupy their territories because they never ceded the land to the Canadian government, the Unist’ot’en explained in a statement Monday.
“Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and have not provided free, prior, and informed consent to Coastal Gaslink/TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands,” said the chiefs in a statement.
Hereditary Chief Dsta’hyl said, “Wet’suwet’en will enforce the eviction of Coastal Gaslink with any means at their disposal.”
Although British Columbia introduced a bill to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during its 2019 legislative session, few believe that policymakers will actually consider the resolution given that it was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration that approved pipeline expansion in the first place, hoping to further develop Canada’s oil and gas export business.
The latest round of this conflict began on January 5 when Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs representing all five clans evicted Coastal GasLink from their territories, saying that CoastalGasLink does not have their consent to construct the C$6.6 billion fracked gas pipeline on unceded indigenous territories.
By February 2, the indigenous people were confronted with police taking over their community halls and airport hangars.
The province of British Columbia appears to be playing an active role on behalf of the pipeline company. A study released last November by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the nonprofit Environmental Defence Canada found the province gave out at least C830 million in fossil fuel subsidies in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and has amassed at least C$3.1 billion in outstanding royalty credits. These supports have been designed specifically to boost the province’s LNG sector, the vast majority of which is fracked gas.
But if LNG expansion goes as planned, it will not be possible for the province to meet its emissions reductions targets, contradicting the climate leadership that Premier John Horgan and his New Democrat-Green coalition government have promised.