Coastal GasLink gets eviction notice from breakaway First Nations on $6.6B LNG project
CALGARY – A breakaway First Nations group has issued an eviction notice to a consortium building the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink project and warned the RCMP to “refrain from interference” in its territory.
On Friday, five hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs sent a letter to Calgary-based pipeline giant TC Energy Corp. informing the company building Coastal GasLink that the chiefs were withdrawing from an agreement signed in April 2019 and telling the company to vacate a camp by Friday, Jan. 10, 2020.
The letter asks the pipeline company to stop payments to the opposed group of hereditary chiefs, who have vocally fought the pipeline project even though elected chiefs and councils in their First Nations communities have supported it and signed impact benefit agreements.
Then, over the weekend, the group publicly announced the eviction notice and accused Coastal GasLink, a pipeline project that will connect natural gas fields near Dawson Creek, B.C. with the under-construction LNG export facility on the West Coast, of allegedly destroying archaeological sites that were “bulldozed through our territories.”
“We expect Coastal GasLink to peacefully comply with our eviction notice… and instruct RCMP to respect our rights and refrain from interference in Wet’suwet’en law,” the release states.
The release also blasted a Supreme Court of British Columbia decision from last week that granted an injunction order and enforcement order for Coastal GasLink, finding the company’s work had been lawfully permitted but delays had cost at least $5 million.
“The granting of the interlocutory injunction by B.C.’s Supreme Court has proven to us that Canadian courts will ignore their own rulings and deny our jurisdiction when convenient, and will not protect our territories or our rights as Indigenous peoples,” the release from the opposed Wet’suwet’en chiefs states.
Both the court decision and the eviction notice have escalated tensions in the province, which have been simmering for months and exposed divisions within some First Nations communities, where elected and hereditary chiefs sometimes jostle to enforce title rights in traditional territories.
We expect Coastal GasLink to … instruct RCMP to respect our rights and refrain from interference in Wet’suwet’en law.
five hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs
In this case, Coastal GasLink – now jointly owned by Calgary-based TC Energy (formerly known as TransCanada Corp.), public pension manager Alberta Investment Management Corp. and New York-based private equity giant KKR & Co. Inc. – has signed agreements with all elected First Nations councils along the route.
However, the company has clashed with a group of opposed hereditary chiefs in north-central B.C.
Coastal GasLink said in a release Sunday that construction on the pipeline is expected to resume this week after a holiday break. “The only people on-site on Saturday, Jan. 4 were security staff.”
The release did not say whether or not the security guards at the camp abided by the eviction order but Jen Wickham, a spokesperson for the group of opposed chiefs, said the eviction order had been recognized and the camp was empty.
“The work they’ve been doing was pre-construction work,” Wickham said, adding that trees along the pipeline route had been cleared though she doesn’t believe trenches have been dug for pipelines yet.
“We haven’t actually seen any of the pipes,” she said.
Coastal GasLink did not respond to a request for comment but indicated in a release that it had requested a meeting with the opposed group “as soon as possible.”
“Our preference has always been to find mutually agreeable solutions through productive and meaningful dialogue. We have reached out to better understand their reasons and are hopeful we can find a mutually agreeable path forward,” the company said in a release.
The company also noted that it has impact benefit agreements in place with all 20 First Nations governments along the pipeline route “including the chiefs and councils elected to represent the five Wet’suwet’en Nation bands which represent the Wet’suwet’en people.”
The release also notes that contractors for Coastal GasLink discovered trees were felled on Sunday on a service road making the stretch impassable, which the company said is “a clear violation of the interlocutory injunction as it prevents our crews from accessing work areas.”
In her decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church wrote an enforcement order of the interlocutory injunction was necessary “to inform the public of the consequences of non-compliance with an injunction order and to provide a mandate to the RCMP to enforce the terms of the order.”
The British Columbia RCMP division did not respond to a request for comment on whether or how it has been asked to respond to the standoff.
Last year, RCMP officers enforcing an interim injunction order for the pipeline arrested protestors and removed obstacles at a blockade in the same region in what became a nationally televised confrontation and incident.
Since that time, groups of protestors from the region and beyond have continued to oppose the project and, in some cases, disrupt work sites and threatened workers, according to the court ruling.
The Supreme Court ruling noted that the Coastal GasLink had experienced delays as a result of the protests and had accrued costs of upwards of $5 million at that time.
The pipeline is part of a larger $40-billion project led by Royal Dutch Shell Plc to build the LNG Canada export facility near Kitimat, B.C. The export project has won the support of elected First Nations groups in the province and the federal and B.C. provincial government.