Crown, company drop charges against LNG pipeline opponents in B.C.

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VICTORIA — Criminal and civil contempt of court charges have been dropped against those who were arrested in February for violating an injunction while fighting the construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.

The arrests of 22 members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and their supporters sparked protests across the country, shutting down rail and roads and putting a dent in the Canadian economy.

The BC Prosecution Service says in a statement issued Friday that criminal contempt charges for those arrested near Houston, B.C., will not be pursued.

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The Crown says there have been no further breaches of the injunction, there wasn’t enough evidence linking those arrested to damage to a bridge and recent talks between governments and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs all played a role in their decision.

Suzanne Wilton with pipeline builder Coastal GasLink says in a statement that in light of work progressing in the area and ongoing talks with hereditary chiefs, it won’t pursue civil contempt charges against the protesters.

A post on the Facebook site Gitimt’en Access Point says while they are relieved that charges have been dropped, they know the RCMP arrests on unceded lands was unlawful.

The Gitimt’en is one of five clans within the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the site represents a camp where some of the arrests occurred along a logging road toward the pipeline work site.

“Coastal GasLink continues to trespass on our lands under the escort of the RCMP, who maintain an illegal remote police detachment on Wet’suwet’en territory. We are treated as criminals on our own land,” the statement says.

The statement from Dan McLaughlin of the BC Prosecution Service says the court was told that if further evidence was brought forward, other charges could be considered.

Hereditary chiefs and the federal and provincial governments signed a memorandum of understanding last month that was negotiated amid the countrywide blockades, marches and encampments.

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The hereditary chiefs have opposed the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline through their territory, although five elected Wet’suwet’en councils signed agreements with Coastal GasLink approving the construction.  

The memorandum didn’t directly address the chief’s opposition to the pipeline but set up timelines on negotiating jurisdiction over land use planning, resources, water, wildlife, child and family wellness and other issues.

While some feared of major economic impacts from the rail blockades that sprang up in response the arrests, Parliament’s spending watchdog later said they would leave a minimal dent in the pace of economic growth.

The Parliamentary budget officer’s report in mid-March estimates the blockades will shave two-tenths of a percentage point off economic growth for the first quarter, with the effects dissipating through the rest of 2020.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.

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The Canadian Press

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