Rumours of a large-scale police action against a camp of First Nations people and environmental activists began circulating widely late last week.
“We are deeply and gravely concerned to learn from a variety of sources that the RCMP appear to be on the verge of executing a highly provocative and dangerously reckless operational plan to make arrests,” reads a letter that was signed by more than 100 civil society groups and notable British Columbians.
At stake is the Unist’ot’en camp, a settlement that some members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation began constructing in northwestern B.C. in 2010. Its location was strategically selected to obstruct the path planned for the Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline. The settlement has since been expanded in opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline, which would follow a similar route across the province.
The RCMP has issued a number of statements in response to media reports of a possibly imminent police action. Those deny the force is preparing to move against the camp.
“There have been numerous media reports and discussions online that do not accurately reflect the RCMP’s action or the situation that is occurring near Houston, BC regarding the ongoing dispute over access to the Unist’ot’en territory,” reads an August 28 RMCP media release.
The same day, CBC News reported troop build-ups were taking place in areas around the Unist’ot’en camp.
“CBC News has learned of a larger RCMP presence in Smithers, Burns Lake and Houston, the towns closest to the protest camp,” wrote reporter Betsy Trumpener.
In a September 1 telephone interview, Nathan Cullen, the NDP MP for that area, said he had yet to see hard evidence of the RCMP substantially increasing its numbers in the area.
“There has been some sense from people in the region that there has been an increased RCMP presence,” he told the Straight. “But in conversations with the RMCP, what they have committed to is that there is no planned raid on the camp.”
Asked if he had witnessed RCMP officers filling hotels in the region, the Skeena-Bulkey Valley MP replied: “No, no. Certainly, people have been contacting me with their own anecdotal evidence….But let’s put it this way: it would be hard to hide 150 [officers].”
“More to the point is that there is a lot of anxiety right now with how things have gone in the last little while, in the sense of increasing provocation,” Cullen continued. “So people are concerned, for sure.”
He declined to guess what role Prime Minister Stephen Harper might be playing in the dispute.
“It wouldn’t be right or appropriate for me to say that the two are connected,” Cullen said. “Because that would be accusing the RCMP of playing politics. And what I need to rely on the RCMP to do is there job, which is an incredibly important one. Yet it is happening within the context of an election that is a number of weeks away.”
However, Cullen added he assumed the Prime Minister’s Office was receiving regular briefings on the situation, given the interest it has shown in issues of resource extraction and pipeline developments.
Independent journalist Michael Toledano has been reporting from the Unist’ot’en camp in recent days. During the morning of September 2, he posted a message on Twitter stating RCMP officers were on their way to the camp. However, Toledano later deleted those reports and posted another message clarifying matters.
“No police visit planned for #Unistoten today,” it read. “Inaccurate information transmitted. Earlier tweets removed; high alert remains.”