WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Canadian police imposed tighter security limits on Thursday in a remote area of northern British Columbia where indigenous protesters have blocked construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said police had started to remove indigenous people from their territories.
The C$6.6 billion ($4.97 billion) pipeline, to be operated by TC Energy Corp, will move gas from northeast British Columbia to the Pacific Coast, where the Royal Dutch Shell-led LNG Canada export facility is under construction.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said it had imposed an “exclusion zone” on Thursday near Houston, B.C., that bars access to an area where project opponents had built a barricade of felled trees and incendiary materials. Police said they would allow access for some chiefs and elected indigenous officials.
The zone will create an area for Coastal GasLink contractors to safely work, RCMP said. The British Columbia Supreme Court granted an injunction in December against blockades preventing access for workers, after protests a year ago resulted in arrests.
On Wednesday, police said officers would use minimal force in any arrests to enforce the injunction. A spokeswoman said RCMP would provide an update later on Thursday.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said police began “aggressively raiding” traditional indigenous territories overnight.
“Forcing indigenous peoples off their own territory is in complete and disgusting violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples,” Phillip said.
All of the elected indigenous band councils along Coastal GasLink’s route support the company. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the project and say they, not the community’s elected officials, hold authority over traditional lands.
Some 28% of the 670-kilometre (420-mile) route passes through Wet’suwet’en lands.
Coastal GasLink President David Pfeiffer said he was disappointed the hereditary chiefs had refused to meet with the company, and that a liaison’s efforts failed to resolve the situation.
“This is not the outcome we wanted. We have made exceptional efforts to resolve this blockade through engagement and dialogue,” Pfeiffer said.
Construction has continued along other parts of the pipeline route.
Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Richard Chang