On Wednesday November 17, Gidimt’en Checkpoint tweeted that a charter plane full of RCMP had landed at Smithers airport with 30-50 police officers. The officers were then loaded onto two white school buses and unmarked pick-up trucks and headed out towards the yintah — an unarmed Gidimt’en Checkpoint where Wet’suwet’en land defenders and allies have been controlling access to Morice River Forest Service Road to stop Coastal Gaslink from drilling.
The following day, Thursday November 18, the RCMP arrested 15 people on the yintah. The day after, on Nov. 19, they arrested another 15 people.
On Sunday November 21, the same make of white school buses photographed transporting police from the Smithers airport on November 17 were seen emerging from the Coastal GasLink man-camp on the Morice River Forest Service Road.
This prompts questions about where the RCMP staged their raids and if the Coastal GasLink camp was used by the police in any way during the two days of arrests.
What is the state infrastructure that enabled this repression of a peaceful land defence struggle against the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline being built on Wet’suwet’en territory without free, prior and informed consent?
The Community-Industry Safety Office
Both the RCMP Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) along with green-garbed, heavily-armed Emergency Response Team (ERT) tactical officers were deployed against unarmed Indigenous land defenders and allies.
According to Gidimt’en camp media coordinator Jennifer Wickham, the response group is staffed by a special division who work out of the Community Industry Safety Office (CISO).
As Wickham has previously noted: “RCMP officers volunteer and request to be on this team – so we get the gung-ho guys, who have specially requested to come out there and harass us.”
That CISO is located at the 29-kilometre mark on the Morice River Forest Service Road on Wet’suwet’en territory. The Coastal GasLink camp is at the 27-kilometre mark.
At the beginning of 2019, the CISO trailers served as a base for about 20 RCMP officers.
As reported by the Guardian one year ago, the CISO had maintained a large presence there “in an effort to forestall any resistance to pipeline construction” since the first raid in January 2019, when RCMP officers armed with assault rifles arrested 14 people at the checkpoint.
In February 2020, after the second RCMP raid, the officers were moved out of the CISO outpost to a nearby detachment but continued to patrol the area, contrary to the demands of the hereditary chiefs. At the time, CBC reported:
Dismantling the CISO was one of the conditions outlined by the chiefs before they would agree to further talks focused on ending nationwide blockades protesting the construction of a natural gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
But part of that demand included removing all officers from the area and a call for patrols to cease.
While the officers’ base moved, they did not stop patrolling, and the CISO itself was not dismantled and removed. It remains operational and ready to be used by the police.
Notably, on Sunday Nov. 21, while a generator could be heard and the road had been ploughed, the CISO appeared to be vacant – no cars, no lights on in the trailers.
UN calls for RCMP to leave Wet’suwet’en territory
RCMP raids in January 2019, February 2020 and now November 2021 have resulted in the arrests of 68 people peacefully defending this land.
After that first raid, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada to remove the RCMP “and associated security and policing services” from the territory.
That did not happen.
Even with the relocation of officers, (but no dismantling or removal of the CISO on Wet’suwet’en territory), the RCMP presence on the yintah has continued.
Karla Tait of the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre commented to the CBC: “Moving those officers 20-odd kilometres down the road and at the same time increasing the patrols on our unceded territory is not meeting that demand in the slightest.”
And on the Sunday before the Thursday-Friday raids this year, the RCMP stated they would “conduct roving patrols” in the area.
The costs of occupation
Prior to the November 2021 raid, the RCMP has spent almost $20 million to enable pipeline construction to continue against the wishes of the land defenders.
That figure would be significantly higher now.
Beyond dollar figures, Gidimt’en land defender Sleydo’, who is currently in prison in Prince George awaiting trial on Monday November 22 after her arrest this past week, has previously stated: “We want to live free on our lands, without the constant threat of violence by CIRG, who are illegally occupying Gidimt’en territory.”
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Brent Patterson travelled from Algonquin territory (Ottawa) to Wet’suwet’en territory to accompany and report on this story. Follow @PBIcanada.