The RCMP has clarified its position on its intention to exit the Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C., following a statement from the federal public safety minister surrounding the fierce dispute on the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
While the RCMP still intend to transfer all officers to the nearby detachment in Houston, the move hinges on a successful meeting with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and a firm commitment to keeping the service road open to all users, including Coastal GasLink pipeline construction workers.
Nationwide protests and blockades of rail lines followed a move by RCMP to enforce a court injunction earlier this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to Coastal GasLink’s work site. The protesters have stated these blockades will remain in place until the RCMP abandon its office on the service road.
Several hereditary chiefs are currently visiting Mohawk supporters in Ontario and will not be able to attend a meeting with RCMP until early next week. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’moks previously told Black Press all chiefs must be present.
The RCMP office has been in place since March 2019 at the 29 km mark along the Morice West Forest Service Road, near to camps set up by opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline running through Wet’suwet’en traditional territory. Police have raided the camps twice during that time, arresting approximately 50 people in total.
In a letter to the hereditary chiefs Feb. 19, B.C. RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan wrote the need for the office had diminished as the road has been consistently kept clear of obstructions.
“Under this circumstance we are therefore prepared to conduct policing operations from Houston Detachment,” she wrote.
Na’moks told Black Press the hereditary chiefs interpreted the letter as an immediate withdrawal of police from the area, but upon visiting the site yesterday he was surprised to see the RCMP office still in operation. He said the commanding officer on site told him there was a miss-communication between the RCMP, the public and the Wet’suwet’en.
In a release today the RCMP clarified that only if there is a commitment from the hereditary chiefs to continue to keep the service road open to all users will the need for the office be diminished, and then “in good faith” the RCMP will relocate their officers to Houston.
“The RCMP understands that not all Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are available for an immediate discussion, however in anticipation of a meeting, planning has been set in motion to transition operations from the service road to the Houston Detachment.”
Confusion over the terms of the RCMP withdrawal follows Blair’s statements yesterday on Parliament Hill, where he told news media the RCMP had offered to move its officers to Houston.
“I believe the time has come now for the barricades to come down,” he said. “We have met the condition that those who are on the barricades had said was important to them before they would change their posture, and that work has been done, and I think quite appropriately.”
In addition to the issue of barricade removal, the hereditary chiefs have also set their own conditions for meeting with federal and provincial government to discuss a resolution to the crisis. First, the RCMP must move their office from the forest service road, and Coastal Gaslink must stop construction in the area and remove its workers.
It’s not yet clear if the condition pertaining to CGL will affect decisions on the dismantling of the barricades, or if it applies only to government discussions.
A request for clarification from Na’Moks has not yet been returned.
In an emailed response to The Interior News, Minister Blair said only that he was encouraged by the development RCMP are willing to move their officers to Houston.
“The RCMP has chosen to make this operational decision, and we trust their ability to assess the situation accurately and keep the public safe. Our government remains committed to dialogue and de-escalation.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to hold a press conference today about the blockades. The hereditary chiefs are expected to make a statement shortly after.