Last week the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s national police force, including a militarized tactical team, moved onto Wet’suwet’en territory in Northern British Columbia to enforce a court injunction to allow the construction of a liquefied natural gas pipeline.
Coastal GasLink is building a 670-kilometre pipeline to bring liquefied natural gas from the Dawson Creek area of BC to a facility near Kitimat, BC. From there, the national gas will be prepared and exported to the international market. However, the pipeline is planned to run directly though Wet’suwet’en territory – sovereign land which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Wet’suwet’en had never ceded to the Canadian government.
Consequently, the Herediditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have been trying to stop the construction of pipeline and proposed alternate routes that did not run through the ancient Kweese War Trail, a culturally significant parts of their traditional territory. However, Coastal GasLink insisted on its original route and in late December a court granted an injunction to allow construction to begin over the Hereditary Chiefs’ objections.
At dawn last Thursday morning, the RCMP moved into the Wet’suwet’en territory and began to arrest people and dismante blockades along a remote forest road. The RCMP’s actions have been the subject of scrutiny in the weeks leading up to their enforcement of the court injunction and since. In the days and weeks leading up to last week’s police action, the RCMP set up an “exclusion zone” in an effort to prevent Indigenous people from getting to their traditional lands and to prevent journalists from reporting from the area.
Last Friday, in Wet’suwet’en territory, the RCMP moved in on the Gidimt’en checkpoint and detained a journalist and a documentary filmmaker who were both trying to cover the police action. Freelance journalist Jerome Turner, who is reporting on the story for the Canadian alternative new site Richochet Media, was detained by the RCMP for nearly eight hours.
“From first contact with the RCMP, shortly after noon, to nearly 8 p.m., a documentary film maker and I were detained,” Turner reported in Ricochet. “While police made arrests, this was a kettle-type scenario where an officer was with each of us and we were not permitted to move freely to report or capture images. After the arrests I tried to leave, but was detained on the road for four hours and was not allowed to proceed to the blockade at 27 kilometre to report on it or return to Gidimt’en or Unist’ot’en to continue reporting there.”
The RCMP initially denied that Turner had been detained. An RCMP spokesperson told Ricochet that Turner was not arrested or detained, but that there were travel delays on the road. However, Turner recorded an exchange an RCMP officer confirming that he and a legal observer were being detained.
Since Friday, organizations such as the Canadian Association of Journalists and Amnesty International have denounced the RCMPs actions. In times like these on-the-scene reporting is more important than ever. It’s necessary for the media to be present to be an independent eyewitness to history and to properly document what has happened.
There’s only a handful of reasons why the police or government would want to exclude the media from covering something like this – and on the top of the list is to prevent the public from seeing how the Indigenous people are being treated.
On Monday morning, when the RCMP moved in on the Unist’ot’en camp, which has been set up since 2009 and includes a Healing Center, it did so in the middle of a traditional ceremony to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Canada needs to rethink how it goes about these types of large-scale projects. Since the RCMP first moved in to enforce the court injunction last week support rallies and protests have sprung up right across Canada. Indigenous people are united in their support for the Wet’suwet’en people in their fight against this pipeline.