Negotiations with chiefs over CGL pipeline fail

Coastal GasLink to resume work on pipeline soon

All 20 First Nations along the CGL piepline route, including five elected Wet'suwet'en band councils, signed benefit agreements with the company, but a handful of hereditary chiefs remain opposed. | CGL

More arrests of members of the Wet'suwet'en and their supporters now seems likely, as an attempted mediation between the province and hereditary chiefs have failed.

Several hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en agreed to meet with provincial government representatives to attempt to avoid a confrontation with RCMP. The BC Supreme Court granted an injunction and an enforcement order against those trying to block access to work sites. RCMP have set up checkpoints on the Morice Forest Service Road, but as yet have not made any arrests of those trying to stop Coastal GasLink workers from getting to work sites.

Hereditary chiefs opposed to the project agreed to meet with provincial officials to try defuse what could become a violent confrontation. But talks have broken off. Coastal GasLink has indicated it plans to move ahead with its work, which means that those trying to prevent workers from getting to worksites are likely to be arrested.

"In the coming days, Coastal GasLink will resume construction activities in the Morice River area in accordance with our permits and Interlocutory Injunction," the company said in a news release. "It is our hope that the resumption of construction activities occurs in a lawful and peaceful manner that maintains the safety of all in the Morice River area."

But Wet'suwet'en opponents and their supporters have demonstrated in the past they are willing to be arrested, as was the case last year when 14 people were arrested.

The $6.6 billion Coastal GasLinke pipeline, which will run from the Dawson Creek area to Kitimat, is a critical part of the $40 billion LNG Canada project.

"The B.C. Supreme Court, after hearing from all parties, granted Coastal GasLink an interlocutory injunction so that the pipeline project may continue to move forward," LNG Canada said in a written statement.

"With all permits in place and signed agreements with 20 First Nations along the pipeline right-of-way, it is now important for Coastal GasLink to honour the commitments made to these nations. LNG Canada supports Coastal GasLink as it works to continue advancing construction and delivering the jobs, contracting and economic benefits the project committed to provide for Indigenous and Northern communities."

Of the 13 hereditary chiefs representing the 13 houses and five clans of the Wet'suwet'en, eight are opposed to the project. The five elected band councils support the project.

In recent weeks, the BC Human Rights Commissioner and United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have weighed in on the controversy, siding with the hereditary chiefs, and invoking the "free, prior and informed consent" requirement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The UN committee issued a declaration calling on Canada to end all major projects, including the Coastal GasLink pipeline, until they have the consent of "all" indigenous people.

The head of that committee, Noureddine Amir, later admitted to Reuters that he had no idea that most First Nations communities in B.C. actually support the natural gas pipeline project. Many of them have jobs and contracts related to the project.

Opponents of the project continue to point to UNDRIP, saying the provincial government is violating it by supporting the CGL, since it does not enjoy unanimous consent of all First Nations.

A ruling yesterday by the Federal Court of Appeal throws some light on the legal aspects of consent and the duty to consult. The appeal court on February 4 unanimously rejected an appeal by four First Nations of the Canadian government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

The court repeatedly said in its ruling that neither the duty to consult First Nations nor the concept of "consent" translates into a veto. The court noted that the Canadian government tried to get the consent of First Nations opposed to the pipeline expansion project. Failing to get that consent does not mean the project can be stopped. The court concluded that "Canada was under no obligation to obtain consent prior to approving the project. That would, again, amount to giving Indigenous groups a veto.”

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv