Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs reject ruling by B.C. Supreme Court judge to extend Coastal GasLink Pipeline injunction

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      A company building a $6.6-billion, 670-kilometre pipeline across B.C. says it "will continue efforts to engage with any affected groups to ensure public safety while our field crews continue to progress [with] their critical activities".

      Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. issued the statement after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church extended an injunction on December 31 until the project is completed.

      "We are proud of the relationships we’ve built with all 20 First Nations along the corridor, the significant benefits we continue to deliver to Indigenous and local communities, and the role we are playing in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions," Coastal GasLink said in its statement.

      The Coastal GasLink Pipeline will bring fracked natural gas from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada plant being built near Kitimat.

      The entire infrastructure project has been approved by the federal and provincial governments and is expected to cost $40-billion. 

      While the proponents claim that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by displacing the burning of coal in Asia, critics say it will gobble up an increasingly large share of the provincial carbon budget and contribute to climate change.

      In her decision, Church stated that the defendants—Unistot'en spokesperson Freda Huson, Sun House of the Laksamshu Clan member Walter Naziel, and other unnamed parties—"have obstructed lawfully permitted activity and their recourse to self-help remedies is contrary to the rule of law".

      "Their actions are an abuse of process and cannot be condoned by the court," she stated.

      Church's ruling has not gone over well with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who said they "reject" it.

      They also said in a statement that the company has never obtained their consent to build the pipeline on their traditional territory.

      Moreover, they claimed the injunction order has criminalized the practice of Wet'suwet'en law and inflicted violence on Wet'suwet'en people on their own unceded lands.

      "At a time when the Province of British Columbia is celebrated for adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Wet’suwet’en people are actively denied the protections of UNDRIP on our own lands," the hereditary chiefs said. "When we enforced our own laws and required that industry seek Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for development on our lands, we faced a brutal display of militaristic police violence and an ongoing police occupation of our territories.

      "We have learned, through the reporting of the Guardian, that RCMP are prepared to kill unarmed Wet'suwet'en people if we continue to uphold our laws."

      Coastal GasLink is eager to construct a 670-kilometre pipeline across B.C.
      Coastal GasLink

      The hereditary chiefs maintain that the authority of the elected chiefs and councils along the route only extends to reserves created under the Indian Act—and not to traditional unceded territory where the pipeline is being built.

      There are five Wet'suwet'en bands with elected chiefs and councils under the Indian Act. They've all signed agreements with the company and the B.C. government.

      In November 2018, Coastal GasLink obtained an interim injunction prohibiting a blockade at the Morice River Bridge.

      The following month, Church granted a second interim injunction against a blockade of the Morice West Forest Service Road at what became known as the Gidimt'en Access Point.

      The interim injunction was varied the same month to include all of the Morice Forest Service Road.

      Then on January 7, heavily armed RCMP officers enforced the interim injunction at the Gidimt'en Access Point, arresting 14 peaceful demonstrators.

      The Guardian recently reported that RCMP documents indicated the national police force employed "lethal overwatch" during the raid and was prepared to shoot protesters.

      The enforcement of the injunction didn't end the dispute, according to Church's recent ruling.

      She wrote that Coastal GasLink personnel "have been subjected to intimidating behaviour or verbal harassment from individuals and there have been reports of similar intimidation in the local community, targeting project workers and individuals who support the Pipeline Project".

      In addition, Church wrote that "there have been disagreements among some of the Wet'suwet'en people with respect to who holds certain hereditary chief names and whether proper protocols have been followed with respect to taking of such names".

      While the judge acknowledged that Wet'suwet'en customary laws clearly exist, she also stated in her ruling that they are "not recognized as being an effectual part of Canadian law".

      "There is no evidence before me of any Wet'suwet'en law or legal tradition that would allow blockades of bridges and roads or permit violations of provincial forestry regulations or other legislation," Church wrote in her decision. "There is also no evidence that blockades of this kind are a recognized mechanism of dealing with breaches of Wet'suwet'en law."

      On Boxing Day, TC Energy announced that it reached an agreement to sell 65 percent of its interest in Coastal GasLink to New York-based KKR and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation.

      KKR has US$208 billion in assets under management and US$153 billion in fee-paying assets under management.

      AIMCo has $108.2 billion in assets that it manages on behalf of 31 pension, endowment, and government funds.