Canadian Police Set to Remove Indigenous Protesters at Site of Disputed Pipeline

OTTAWA (Reuters) — Canadian police on Thursday started arresting indigenous protesters at the site of TC Energy Corp's Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, a First Nations group opposed to the project said.

One of the clans, the Gidimt'en, said on Sunday it had ordered company workers to leave a camp in the north of the province, which is on their traditional territory. Coastal says it is allowed to work on the pipeline.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia said some demonstrators had been breaking the law by vandalizing equipment and destroying a road. They were also blocking essential supplies, it said.

"We were hoping that a solution would be reached without the need for police enforcement ... we are now mobilizing our resources for a rescue mission," Chief Superintendent John Brewer said in a statement.

Hereditary chiefs from the five clans of the Wet'suwet'en people, who oppose the project, have been trying for more than a year to halt construction.

All of the 20 elected indigenous band councils along Coastal GasLink's 415-mile (670 km) route support the project. But Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say they, not the community's elected officials, hold authority over traditional lands.

Coastal, which is owned by private equity firm KKR & Co Inc., Alberta Investment Management Corp and TC, says it is allowed to work on the pipeline, citing an injunction granted by the British Columbia Supreme Court in 2019 against blockades preventing access for workers. It says the protests are illegal and puts it 500-strong workforce at risk.

"It is unfortunate that the RCMP must take this step so that lawful access to our lodges and public forestry roads can be restored," it said in a statement, adding that the protestors "had no interest in dialogue."

A social media account representing the Gidimt'en blockade tweeted on Sunday that between 30 and 50 police officers had landed at a local airport.

"Throughout today, helicopters have circled over our camps, conducting low, deliberate flights for surveillance ... we will not back down," it said.

"The Province has chosen to send busloads of police to criminalize Wet'suwet'en water protectors and to work as a mercenary force for oil and gas," the Gidimt'en said, arguing the pipeline's construction will pollute water and destroy the environment.

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