Protesters delayed a speech by the prime minister in Ottawa and blocked traffic in Toronto and Vancouver on Tuesday, after RCMP moved in on an Indigenous blockade to enforce an injunction that would allow a pipeline to proceed in northern British Columbia.
The rallies came one day after RCMP arrested 14 people at the blockade site southwest of Houston, B.C., where members of the Gidimt'en clan of Wet'suwet'en First Nation are trying to stop construction of Coastal GasLink’s pipeline from going ahead.
RCMP were expected to dismantle another camp nearby on Tuesday. Police have blocked members of the public including the media from accessing that camp, saying that the “temporary exclusion zone” is required for “privacy and safety.”
They said in a written statement on Monday that police “facilitated a meeting between hereditary chiefs and (Coastal GasLink) in the hopes that this could be resolved without police involvement,” but “it was determined that the matter could not be resolved.”
The pipeline would bring natural gas from near Dawson Creek to a port on the coast in Kitimat, where it would then be liquefied before being exported. It’s part of a $40-billion project that was approved by the federal and provincial governments in October. Elected chiefs have given their support, but some hereditary chiefs have not.
Chief: ‘Where’s our Indigenous rights?’
One of those hereditary chiefs, John Ridsdale, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that he is opposed to the project on his traditional territory because it his “responsibility to look after the land.”
“We need clean water, clean air, clean land,” he said.
“This is how we teach our children for the future to look after this,” he added.
Ridsdale said that the chiefs are “hurt” by actions of Coastal GasLink, and he accused the RCMP of being “puppets (of) industry and a government that won’t stand up for Indigenous rights.”
Ridsdale said that a 72-year-old woman was among those arrested. She was released but the 13 other people arrested were taken to Prince George, he said.
“We didn’t expect such an extreme action,” he added. “We did expect some to show up but the forces that they used, the amazing numbers that they used, the tactics that they used, were actually something we did not expect as peaceful people.”
The chief thanked the hundreds of people who showed up at rallies to ask Canada to demand that the RCMP cease enforcing the court order.
“Where’s our human rights? Where’s our Indigenous rights?” he said. “They always talk about reconciliation,” he went on. “If yesterday was any form of what reconciliation looks like in the governments’ eyes, I don’t want any part of it.”
Bellegarde: ‘Honour the rights and title’
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also criticized the enforcement action, saying in a written statement that “reconciliation will not be achieved through force.”
“Real consensus will be built when the parties, with very different views, come together in a meaningful and productive dialogue,” his statement goes on.
“If this was really about the 'rule of law' then governments would be honouring the rights and title of First Nations in their traditional territories, which are recognized by Canada's own courts,” Bellegarde added.
One of Tuesday’s largest protests began on Parliament Hill and proceeded through downtown Ottawa. A meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a number of First Nations negotiators unrelated to the protest was delayed after demonstrators pushed their way into the building.
In Toronto, hundreds of protesters rallied in front of city hall before marching through the streets blocking traffic. Some held banners with skulls drawn on them and the words “no pipelines.”
In Vancouver, police were forced to shut down roads as hundreds marched through the city’s downtown chanting, drumming and carrying placards.
There were also rallies in support of the Indigenous blockaders in Edmonton, Montreal, Prince George, B.C., and North Bay, Ont.
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.”
Protests in support of oil and gas
Meanwhile, a different kind of protest was held in Regina, where oil and gas industry workers who are facing the prospect of layoffs want to see more pipelines proceed.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe attended the rally, which he said was about defending the “quality of life” that Canadians enjoy thanks to natural resources development.
“You are here today because you care about our resource sector, you care about our province and you care about our nation,” Moe told the cheering crowd.
The Regina rally was organized by Canada Action, a group that has now held dozens of rallies in support of pipelines. Canada Action argues that the Coastal GasLink pipeline will help to reduce carbon emissions by allowing developing Asian countries to transition power production from coal to cleaner natural gas.
In Calgary, members of Canada Action showed up to counter a protest in support of the blockade. They shouted “build that pipe, build that pipe” and demanded the Trudeau government scrap Bill C-69, which they say would make pipeline approvals more difficult.
Sean Alexander was one of them. “People in Calgary, people in the energy sector ... are tired of sitting back and listening to this small minority get a voice over ours,” he told CTV Calgary.
The ministers in charge of Indigenous affairs both turned down a request from CTV Power Play to offer their views on the RCMP’s enforcement.
Cullen: ‘Time for Trudeau to engage’
NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who represents the northern B.C. riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, told Power Play that he tried to visit protesters on Monday but was blocked by RCMP.
“We have a clash here between the traditional Indigenous government which has existed for thousands of years and the laws and the governance in Canada,” Cullen said. “Mr. Trudeau has promised to recognize those two things. That’s what reconciliation means, I think,” he added.
Cullen said that aboriginal “rights and title” must be recognized in this case and that the federal government needs to “get involved in a meaningful way.”
“The prime minister was skiing in B.C. last week in Whistler. He’s going to be here tomorrow, we believe, in Kamloops,” Cullen added. “It’s time for him to engage.”
The 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline would supply natural gas for the LNG Canada project, which is a joint venture between Shell, PETRONAS, PetroChina, Mitsubishi Corporation and KOGAS.
With files from CTV’s Kevin Gallagher in Ottawa and Melanie Nagy in Vancouver