Two journalists and a number of opponents have been released on conditions after appearing in B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George today after being detained by the RCMP last week.
The arrests occurred amid rising tensions surrounding the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.
RCMP have been moving in recent days to enforce an injunction against protesters who have set up blockades along the roads leading to Coastal GasLink pipeline project, which is opposed by the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and other groups.
Those arrested include Molly Wickham also known as Sleydo’, a wing chief in Cas Yikh house of the Gidimt’en clan along with Jocey Alec, daughter of Hereditary Dinï ze’ (Chief) Woos, and 13 others, including two journalists - Amber Bracken and documentarian Michael Toledano.
Sleydo’s partner Cody Merriman was the first to be released pending a trial date for Feb. 14, 2022.
Justice Marguerite Church agreed also agreed to release the journalists’ Bracken and Toledano from custody after they agreed to comply with the terms of the injunction including not entering into the exclusion zone.
Bracken’s lawyer David Sutherland argued against the company’s lawyer that neither of the journalists had identified themselves as press.
Their arrests have also been condemned by the Canadian Association of Journalists and BC-based journalism outlet The Narwhal, which said Bracken was reporting for them when she was taken into custody.
The president of the Canadian Association of Journalists said in an open letter to RCMP that he was "very concerned" about recent accounts of police interference with journalists reporting from Wet'suwet'en territory.
A crowd of about 50 supporters gathered on the steps of courthouse with drums and signs in solidarity with those who were detained.
“I’m incredibly frustrated, exhausted this particular fight for the Wet’suwet’en has been going on for over 10 years,” said Sleydo’s sister, Jennifer Wickham, in front of the courthouse.
“The fact that the RCMP are clearing the road for costal gas link and trying to evict Wet’suwet’en people from their own lands, frustrating is an understatement.”
The opponents were arrested at a pipeline drill site near the Wedzin Kwa (Morice) River.
Gidimt’en land defenders and supporters first occupied the drill site on Sept. 25, 2021, to prevent the company from drilling under the river.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline, owned by TC Energy, would cross 190 kilometres of unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, connecting natural gas sources in the province’s northeast with the LNG Canada facility currently under construction in Kitimat.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and their supporters, have voiced their opposition to any pipeline construction on the territory for over ten years.
“My sister and all of the land defenders are doing what is right, and we know that upholding Wet’suwet’en law and protecting our children and their ability to be Wet’suwet’en is under attack right now,” said Whickam.
“Wet’suwet’en law, our way of being, upholding our responsibilities as Indigenous people on this land is under attack right now.”
In December of 2019, a court issued an injunction against blockaders, giving RCMP officers authorization to make dozens of arrests last year, when land defenders blockaded the road and prevented work by the pipeline company and contractors.
The recent November blockades which halted CGL plans to drill at the Wedzkin Kwa River stranded about 500 CGL employees for three days leaving them at risk for running out of supplies.
The natural gas pipeline project is more than half finished with almost all of the route cleared and 200 kilometres of pipeline installed so far, the company has said.
Further bail hearings are set to continue tomorrow at 9 a.m. for the remaining individuals who have been arrested.
- with files from the Canadian Press