Pipeline protesters delay Trudeau speech to First Nations with drums, chants

Protesters in Calgary rally against TransCanada’s Coastal Gas Link pipeline.
Darren Makowichuk  

Protesters in Calgary rally against TransCanada’s Coastal Gas Link pipeline. Darren Makowichuk Postmedia

Ahead of the demonstrations in Canada and the United States, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on Monday arrived at a checkpoint erected by the Indigenous land defenders created to prevent TransCanada from constructing its Coastal GasLink pipeline through what the protesters have described as "some of the most attractive and pristine territory in the world".

Around 2012, the Unist'ot'en camp set up a blockade by constructing a gate and other obstacles to the area, and a second gate was recently constructed at the Morice River Bridge, the company said in a document filed with the court.

In photographs and video circulated Monday, Jan. 7, and Tuesday, Jan. 8, armed officers in tactical gear faced off with locals brandishing feathers as police advanced on a remote, snowy checkpoint set up to stop the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would run through the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.

A post on the Wet'suwet'en Access Point Facebook page claimed police broke through the checkpoint gate with "brutal force".

She said there will be another support rally - "it's not a protest, we're standing in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people" - on Wednesday afternoon at the same location, on Riverside Drive East at Jefferson Boulevard.

A sign for a blockade check point by the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.

They are also prohibited from threatening, intimidating or getting within 10 metres of anyone actively working on the project.

Despite what appeared to a be a subdued start to their interaction with demonstrators, the force said in a statement that night that more than a dozen people had been taken into custody, adding that officers felt confident the standoff could not be resolved without their involvement. It also facilitated a meeting between hereditary chiefs and representatives from Coastal GasLink.

Pipeline supporters shout behind a police line in downtown Calgary on Tuesday.
Darren Makowichuk  Postmedia
Pipeline supporters shout behind a police line in downtown Calgary on Tuesday. Darren Makowichuk Postmedia

One man at the North Bay protest told CTV Northern Ontario demonstrators want "peace and dialogue" and want politicians to demand that the RCMP "not move in and forcibly remove sovereign people from their own land".

Mounties say various offences, including alleged violations of an injunction order against the blockade, prompted Monday's arrests.

The federal NDP's reconciliation critic says the justification used for the RCMP's intervention is "pretty lame" in an era of supposed reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Police had arrived in the area over the weekend, gathering in Houston and Smithers, the two municipalities closest to the checkpoints.

Freda Huson, who is among those at the the Unist'ot'en camp on the Wet'suwe'ten First Nation, says protesters there have spent the last several days preparing for the arrival of RCMP officers.

Wickham was in Prince George where she said 13 people arrested for violating the court order, including her sister Molly Wickham, were scheduled to appear in court. Wickham was one of the nine people arrested.

Tait says there had been concerns at the Unist'ot'en camp, citing a "tense climate" there with the possibility of demonstrators being removed for restricting access to the pipeline. The injunction is to remove anyone who interferes with a Coastal GasLink pipeline project. The company has engaged with all First Nations groups along the project, both hereditary and elected, and also has some hereditary support, said Cunha.

"Now we need all Canadians to stand up and tell this government that they have to treat Indigenous people as human beings", he said. "In any situation such as this, we hope all parties find a safe and mutually respectful resolution", he said.

Edmonton's event is part of an worldwide effort, with 54 other rallies are planned for Tuesday.

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