SMITHERS, B.C. – The RCMP lifted an exclusion zone Friday that cut off public access to a forest service road in northern British Columbia at the site of a confrontation this week between Mounties and opponents of a natural gas pipeline.
Police say the public and media can travel on the road in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory but the RCMP will be patrolling it to ensure everyone’s safety.
Earlier Friday, a convoy of work trucks passed through the police roadblock heading to the Unist’ot’en healing camp to dismantle barriers that had blocked workers from starting construction on the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
On Thursday, hereditary chiefs struck a deal with the RCMP to abide with an interim court injunction by not blocking access to the work site.
In exchange, the chiefs said members of the First Nation would not be arrested and the Unist’ot’en camp would be allowed to remain intact.
Chief Na’Moks said they made the temporary agreement to protect Wet’suwet’en members, some of whom were already traumatized after another checkpoint was dismantled and 14 people were arrested on Monday.
The Unist’ot’en is a house group within the five clans that make up the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
The agreement applies to an interim court injunction, which is meant to prevent anyone from impeding the company’s work until the defendants, which include members of the Unist’ot’en camp, file a response.
Some members of the Wet’suwet’en say the company does not have authority to work on their territory without consent from the nation’s hereditary clan chiefs.
TransCanada Corp. says it has signed benefit-sharing agreements with the elected councils of all 20 First Nations along the pipeline route. Its Coastal GasLink pipeline would run from northern B.C. through the Wet’suwet’en territory to LNG Canada’s $40 billion export terminal in Kitimat.
Coastal GasLink president Rick Gateman said the agreement lays the groundwork for the company to have free access to the area for pre-construction and construction work on the pipeline.
The RCMP said in a news release Thursday that police would continue “roving patrols” of the Morice West Forest Service Road.
The Mounties said they also set up a temporary RCMP detachment on the road that will be staffed by general duty police officers who “will undergo cultural awareness training on the Wet’suwet’en traditions and will have enhanced training in conflict resolution.”