Coastal GasLink can start its site work preparation for an LNG pipeline as early as Monday after being granted an interim injunction against members of the Unist’ot’en south of Houston.
The 670-km pipeline needs to be built to bring natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat’s LNG Canada export terminal if the $40-billion project is to go ahead as early as 2022.
Justice Marguerite Church made the decision from Williams Lake Friday via live video shown in Prince George and and a packed Smithers courtroom.
But nothing is over yet.
The injunction was interim, and gives Unist’ot’en representatives more time to respond to the application from Coastal GasLink before a more permanent decision is made on access to Wet’suwet’en land west of the Morice River.
The ruling had three main components:
–Adjournment of the hearing of the plaintiff’s (Coastal GasLink) application for an interlocutory injunction to a date to be set no later than May 1, 2019, unless the parties agree otherwise.
–Extension of the time for the defendants to file and serve an application response, and a response to civil claim to Jan. 31, 2019.
–An interim injunction in the form sought by the plaintiff that will remain in force until judgment is rendered in the interlocutory injunction application or until there is a further order of the court. It goes into affect 72 hours after Friday afternoon’s ruling.
Enforcement provisions were deemed warranted by the Justice, who cited the Unist’ot’en’s social media presence in her reasoning.
“The area of the blockade is remote; the number of persons at the blockade varies; the time for the plaintiff to perform the work is very limited; and based on social media posts by the defendant, there is an indication that the defendants and their supporters may not obey the interim injunction order,” said Church.
The Justice said the work that Coastal GasLink said needed to start by this January would cause significant harm to the company, the 20 First Nation bands including Wet’suet’en bands like Witset that signed agreements with the company, and Wet’suwet’en companies like Kyah Resources. Kyah is jointly owned by Witset and Roga Contracting Ltd.
She added that those losses stood little or no chance of being recouped from defendants, and that most work is not set to begin on the pipeline in that area until June 2021.
In her ruling, Church deemed the work to be done in 2019 in the area of an old forestry cut block to be relatively minimal to the defendants. She pointed to the fact that the camp would not need to be moved as long as workers could get through.
The Unist’ot’en allowing forestry company Canfor to get through the blockade onto Dark house (of the Gil-seyhu, or big frog clan) territory was used as part of the reasoning.
Unist’ot’en spokesperson and Witset Band councillor Freda Huson is one of the named defendants along with her husband, Sun house (of the neighbouring Laksamshu, or fireweed and owl clan) hereditary Chief Smogelgem (Warner Naziel).
She said Canfor had a different approach than Coastal GasLink, which is owned by TransCanada.
“Canfor answered our protocol questions and they were respectful of us; that’s why we worked with them and allowed them to come in,” explained Huson, who said the hearing heard misrepresentations of Coastal GasLink’s efforts and Unist’ot’en reactions.
“It was so tough sitting there listening … Because everything was sprung on us and we didn’t have much time to respond, they had all the time in the world to do a 2,500 page binder,” she said, adding she was grateful the opportunity to respond was extended to the end of January.
The hereditary chief for the Dark House whose territory was in question was also at the courthouse with other Wet’suwet’en leaders. Knedebeas (Warner William) said he fully supports the Unist’ot’en action.
“They say 45,000 hours consultation with hereditary chiefs. It’s not real consultation, they’re offering money: You sign this, do this and we’ll give you this much money. Is that consultation? That’s how they did it,” said Knedebeas.
He pointed to what he described as the damage done to areas around Fort St. John and Fort McMurray as something he hopes to avoid in northeast B.C. Knedebeas is also weary of what a pipeline could do to his territory, saying he hasn’t seen enough details on what will happen to the land.
Huson and Smogelgem are worried about having to take down the gate across the Morice River bridge. Incidents involving trucks ramming the gate and people shooting guns in the area have been reported to Houston RCMP, who have not charged anyone.
Coastal GasLink sent out a statement Friday after the ruling:
“We appreciate the court’s decision today in providing us with an interim injunction to move forward with our pre-construction activities. We understand that a delay in the project process means a delay in providing thousands of employment opportunities and millions of dollars in economic benefits to First Nations groups and local communities in B.C. who are counting on it. We feel we have a strong case to support our injunction claim and will be ready to present those facts again early in the new year, just as we did yesterday.
“Right now, our focus is on respectfully and safely moving forward with project activities, including gaining safe access across the Morice River bridge. We understand there are individuals who do not share the same opinions about this project, and we respect that. We simply ask that their activities do not disrupt or jeopardize the safety of our employees and contractors, surrounding communities or even themselves.
“We also want to reiterate that Coastal GasLink is only looking for access across the bridge to do the necessary work. The camp established next to the bridge will remain as is. In fact, we see no reason why the camp cannot continue with its activities. We simply need to use the public bridge to access our pipeline right of way. The bridge provides the only physical connection in the area to the right of way. Our pipeline is located approximately 1 kilometre south of the camp, and does not overlap or directly affect the camp, as some reports have claimed.
“While our continued attempts to find a mutual solution with the camp over the past six years have not been successful, we remain committed in our endeavour to keep all lines of communication open to find that solution.”
The camp has garnered international attention, with rallies in different cities and even Americans coming to live at the remote camp.