Have you heard that Canada is a colonial police state controlled by multinational corporations that uses military force to invade Indigenous people and force them off their land?
That’s the message conveyed around the world in recent days, as RCMP officers moved in as delicately as possible to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction to take down roadblocks to allow construction to start on a natural gas pipeline to the B.C. coast.
We now know that 14 people were arrested after police in tactical gear took down a gate on a provincial forest service road south of Houston in northwestern B.C. Some of them at least are to appear in a Prince George courtroom in early February.
It’s one of two barriers on this public road, the first having been erected 10 years ago by a couple of members of a Wet’suwet’en clan and their outside supporters.
There were a few reporters allowed into this remote area, mostly trying to sensationalize the confrontation, but professional activists command the big audience.
For example, U.S. actor Susan Sarandon was quick to promote a report from a self-styled “anarchist collective” that used social media to broadcast slick video of the “brutal raid,” with close-ups of RCMP weapons. The video cut to scenes from dozens of marches magically staged across North America and Europe the next day. Sarandon hit all the key propaganda words, including “fracked gas,” as she pushed this professional video to her 622,000 Twitter followers.
Pictures from inside the blockade showed female protesters staged at the front to depict helplessness in the face of overwhelming force. The last scenes I saw were of an obviously gasoline-fed fire at the barrier, clouds of black smoke revealing the accelerant.
Here’s the account of a well-connected area resident I won’t identify: As police prepared to move in, protesters soaked the frozen ground with gasoline. This was likely from jerry cans carried in earlier in the day by RCMP liaison staff along with other supplies, to allow occupiers to leave in comfort and dignity in their vehicles.
The fire was set as police entered and quickly got out of control, igniting the protesters’ tent and a bus that still had a protester tied to it. Police had bolt cutters to cut down the barrier and were able to rescue him.
After a couple of days of talks with RCMP and representatives of pipeline company Coastal GasLink, the spokesman for the dissident hereditary chiefs, John Ridsdale (Chief Na’Moks), announced that the original gate would also be opened to comply with the court order, which extends to May.
“We are the peaceful people here,” Ridsdale said. “We are not invading them.”
All 20 Indigenous communities along the pipeline route have signed impact and benefit agreements. Or rather their elected councils have, seeing an alternative to the poverty, unemployment, addiction and suicide that are rampant in these remote communities.
Ridsdale is an old friend of Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson, now B.C. forests and lands minister. Donaldson invited him to the B.C. legislature in January 2015, to press for a legislated guarantee from the B.C. Liberal government that Coastal GasLink and other gas pipelines can’t be converted to carry crude oil. Ridsdale didn’t object to natural gas then. He and Donaldson argued the existing regulation preventing gas pipeline conversion to oil is not adequate.
At that time, Ridsdale was leading protest marches against the Trans Mountain oil pipeline twinning project.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media.