RCMP deployed on Morice Forest Service Road near Houston in November 2021. (Gidimt’en Checkpoint Facebook Photo)

RCMP deployed on Morice Forest Service Road near Houston in November 2021. (Gidimt’en Checkpoint Facebook Photo)

RCMP, Coastal GasLink deny conspiring with private security firm to intimidate Wet’suwet’en protestors

Police assert that their response was “commensurate with the circumstances”

In new court documents, the RCMP denies it collaborated with Coastal Gaslink and Forsythe private security in an alleged campaign to harass and intimidate a group of Wet’suwet’en protesters that have been opposing the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline in northwest B.C.

In a civil suit filed at the B.C. Supreme Court on June 22, 2022, Janet Williams, Lawrence Bazil and Molly Wickham (also known as Sleydo’) say police waged a daily campaign of intimidation and harassment by collaborating with Coastal GasLink and Forsythe private security to deter the protestors.

The suit focuses on police activities around two sites known as the Gidimt’en Checkpoint and Lamprey Village.

The checkpoint is located at a remote pullout at kilometre 44 along the Morice Forest Service Road approximately 50 kilometres east of Houston. It was established by house chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en Clan in 2018 to “reestablish occupancy of by members of the Gidimt’en Clan on territory their ancestors for thousands of years” and as an “important symbol of Wet’suwet’en resistance to the Pipeline Project and their dedication to protecting their traditional territory,” according to the claim.

Five hundred metres east of the checkpoint is Lamprey Village, a collection of small wooden homes, canvas tents and trailers, as well as cleaning, cooking and dining facilities that serve as a home from which members of the Gidimt’en clan engage in traditional cultural practices such as hunting, fishing, trapping, harvesting and tanning.

The claim alleges members of the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group, an outfit founded in 2017 to police resource extraction in B.C., were sent regularly to the checkpoint and village approximately 269 times between the beginning of March and the end of May.

It claims that in the visits, the unit assaulted and battered residents and visitors; disrupted cultural practices; interrupted construction; demanded photo identification from anyone trying to travel along the road; shone high beams in structures at all hours of the night; seized equipment and property; destroying locks, chains, fences and gates; and threatened arrests.

The RCMP has had a regular presence in the area since early 2020 after Justice Marguerite Church granted Coastal GasLink an injunction guaranteeing the company access to their work site along the Morice FSR.

The plaintiffs Williams, Bazil and Wickham also argue that Coastal GasLink, Forsythe and police conspired to target residents and visitors of the checkpoint and village.

The claim argues that “Forsythe employees have routinely shared information, video footage and photographs with RCMP officers as part of a joint effort to target the Plaintiffs, their allies, and residents and visitors of the Gidimt’ en Checkpoint and Lamprey Village.”

None of these allegations have been proven in court.

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In the latest 17-page defence filing, B.C.’s public safety minister argues that “the Plaintiffs’ allegations of conspiracy are scandalous, vexatious and are made without any reasonable basis in fact.”

The minister is represented by a Justice Canada lawyer as the RCMP is involved in the case.

RCMP claim that all actions were within their lawful right to enforce the injunction order. They claim that all structures being built at the Gidimt’en checkpoint were designed to block the construction of the Pipeline Project and did not exist before the injunction.

Among the blockades, the response claims that verbal abuse of RCMP became more common, and protestors became more aggressive “wearing camouflage and asserting that RCMP members are trespassing on the land. RCMP members also reported being surrounded by groups emerging from treelines and attempting to intimidate them.”

The response outline the escalation of events in Nov. 2021, when approximately 29 people were arrested for alleged violations of the interim injunction along the Morice Forest Service Road. A few months later in Feb., Coastal GasLink reported an incident at a worksite where they claim “about 20 individuals were at the Pipeline Project threatening and attacking security personnel with axes.”

When RCMP responded they found a blockade of “downed trees, tar-covered stumps, wire and spiked boards, and debris covering the road was lit on fire. On the far side of the debris, six to eight people in camouflage were yelling at the police.”

On September 13, 2022, Coastal GasLink advised the RCMP that the Pipeline Project has entered a critical stage of drilling, with increased risks. They said that potential interference or damage to equipment at this stage could pose a risk of death. In response, RCMP instituted regular patrols and monitoring of the Injunction Area.

The protestors claim that RCMP used these incidents as an excuse to engage in “conduct that reaches far beyond a lawful or reasonable investigation into these events.”

RCMP assert that their response was “commensurate with the circumstances” and not “unlawful or overzealous.”

Like the RCMP, Coastal GasLink denies all claims of physical or mental damage done to the plaintiffs, even going so far as to say “if the Plaintiffs suffered any damages, […] then those damages were only suffered as a result of the Plaintiffs being abnormally sensitive, and would not have been suffered by an average person.”

READ MORE Gidimt’en members sue RCMP, Coastal GasLink for harassment, intimidation

In July 2022 it was announced that roughly 70 per cent of the Coastal GasLink pipeline was complete and the project cost had increased to $11.2 billion. When complete, it will carry fracked natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat for export to Asia.

Its construction has the approval of 20 elected band councils along the route, but hereditary chiefs maintain those chiefs don’t have a say in what is developed on the territory.

The conflict between protestors and RCMP has led to solidarity protests across Canada including rail blockades.

@samkonnert
sam.konnert@blackpress.ca

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