Pushing Back Against the Pipeline

Melanie Bellwood | News Director

As winter comes into full swing and students return to their most frequently visited study spaces for the next four months, the rest of British Columbia feels a similar post-holiday shift back into the real world. For some, this change is far more drastic and encourages the population to do some self-reflection before jumping back into the old grind. One of the most recent changes, that happens to have hit close to home for Prince George, is the looming construction of the LNG pipeline from Smithers, BC, to Kitimat, BC. Although this pipeline was announced in October of 2018, and the company placing is (Coastal Gaslink) has stated that they secured permissions from all First Nations clans along the route prior to construction, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation claims that due to the hereditary nature of their chiefs (rather than electoral) their people were left out of any deal made with Coastal Gaslink completely. In response to this, protesters from the Wet’suwet’en and Unist’ot’en First Nations peoples set up roadblocks and checkpoints along the planned route, primarily in Houston, BC, in order to inhibit progress on pipeline construction. While these protests were inherently peaceful, These actions were met Coastal Gaslink negotiating with the BC Supreme Court for the use of an interim junction that would force the protest camp to allow access to the pipeline route. When these requests were not met, RCMP moved in to assist in the securing of this area. For many officers, however, this did not appear to be a clear-cut decision. In a public statement released by the police force, the RCMP say the following: “The conflict between the oil and gas industries, Indigenous communities, and governments all across the province has been ongoing for a number of years… This has never been a police issue. In fact, the B.C. RCMP is impartial and we respect the rights of individuals to peaceful, lawful and safe protest.” Regardless of their statement, the RCMP made 14 protester arrests on January 7th, 2019, for their involvement in the anti-pipeline rally. The gate obstructing access to the construction route was dismantled, and Coastal Gaslink was granted use of the area. There are some concerns that the RCMP’s actions were in “direct contradiction” (Phillip, PG Citizen) to government commitments to assert reconciliation efforts with Indigenous people across Canada, making the way this protest was handled the subject of national concern. On January 5th, 2019, after a “call to action” was posted on Wet’suwet’en social media, groups came together at more than 50 locations nationwide to express their solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and the Unist’ot’en First Nation peoples who were asked to stand down their LNG protest near Houston, BC. One such gathering was at the Prince George Courthouse, where supporters vocally contested the removal of Wet’suwet’en protesters from their sovereign territory by RCMP forces. While the pipeline still stands at the core of the dispute, supporters also vocalized their concerns over the safety of the arrested protesters, some harkening back to the severity of the 1990 Oka Crisis in Quebec as an example of what could happen as a result of these actions. The Oka Crisis was also a dispute between local first nations peoples and authorities, that time over the expansion of a golf course and condominium plan into Mohawk territory. While the premise was similar, the crisis differs from our own LNG pipeline protest only in numbers of individuals and the escalation of violence between opposing groups. A dark moment in Canadian history, the 78-day standoff did not conclude until Mohawk warriors were forced to surrender to RCMP and army and lay down their weapons. Today, we face another land dispute that many worried would reflect that of Montreal’s criss nearly thirty years ago. Minister of Public Safety, Mike Farnsworth, responded to these concerns in a public statement that asserted the actions taken by RCMP were at arms’ length from provincial government control and was strictly an operational matter. He also stated the following: “We recognize the right for people to engage in peaceful protest. In any situation such as this, we hope all parties find a safe and mutually respectful resolution.” This statement received a mixed response, as many believe that by ignoring the issue, we will not find any permanent solution and that tensions will only rise until a breaking point is reached. As members of a student society that recognizes the implications of truth and reconciliation in our day to day lives, it is difficult to form an opinion regarding the scope of this issue and what our responsibilities are as individuals in the matter. When we hear stories about communities across British Columbia blocking traffic with their protests, is forces us to face the reality of truth and reconciliation in Prince George. As many students of the humanities will know, it is often unclear where the public stands on issues as hotbutton as this until you begin to see it in the media. While the outcome was not as negative as it could have been, the fact that these land disputes are still present within our current legislations reflects that our society is one that is healing, and not already healed. Shortly after the dismantling of the protest in Houston, the media stopped talking about resistance against the LNG pipeline and began to discuss “more relevant topics” than that of a potential breach to our Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Act. It is up to us to decide whether we believe this is an issue that should still be pursued, or if it is alright to simply let British Columbia forget about the close-to-home protest that reminded people of the Oka Crisis in Montreal, 1990. I encourage readers of Over the Edge to weigh in on the matter and discuss what our role is as a student society what we hold ourselves responsible for when truth and reconciliation must actually be upheld in our own community.