|Coastal GasLink Pipeline|
Coastal GasLink route.
Wetʼsuwetʼen area in yellow
|From||Dawson Creek, British Columbia|
|To||Kitimat, British Columbia|
|Partners||LNG Canada, Korea Gas Corporation, Mitsubishi, PetroChina, Petronas|
|Length||670 km (420 mi)|
The Coastal GasLink pipeline is a TC Energy natural gas pipeline under construction in British Columbia, Canada. Starting in Dawson Creek, the pipeline's route crosses through the Canadian Rockies and other mountain ranges to Kitimat, where the gas will be exported to Asian customers. Its route passes through several First Nations peoples' traditional lands, including some that are unceded. Although approved by 20 First Nations' elected councils, the hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people withheld their approval on ecological grounds and organized a blockade of construction within the Wetʼsuwetʼen peoples' traditional lands.
A court injunction against those blocking the project was granted twice by the BC Supreme Court, in 2018 and 2019. In 2019 and 2020, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) entered the blocked area and cleared road access for construction, arresting several of the pipeline opponents. The 2020 arrests have sparked widespread protests across Canada in solidarity with the original protests. Protests have targeted government offices, ports and rail lines. A protest in February 2020 by the Mohawk First Nation people of Tyendinaga in Ontario blocked a critical segment of rail, causing Via Rail to shut down much of its passenger rail network and Canadian National Railway (CNR) to shut down freight service in eastern Canada for several weeks.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline is owned and operated by TC Energy. LNG Canada selected TC Energy to design, build, and own the pipeline in 2012. The natural gas transported by the pipeline will be converted into liquefied natural gas by LNG Canada in Kitimat and then exported to global markets. In particular, the company expects the natural gas will help divert emissions resulting from coal-burning in Asia. The pipeline's route starts near Dawson Creek and runs approximately 670 kilometres (420 mi) south-west to a liquefaction plant near Kitimat. Its estimated cost is CA$6.6 billion.
Construction of the pipeline is underway. In one section south-west of the town of Houston, which runs through part of the traditional lands of the Wetʼsuwetʼen indigenous people, the hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen withheld their approval and blocked construction. The blockade was removed by the RCMP in February 2020. On February 21, 2020, the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) served notice that Coastal GasLink must halt construction on that segment and enter into talks with the Wetʼsuwetʼen over the next 30 days.
Consultation with local band councils was held as part of the planning and environmental review process between 2012 and 2014. As a result of the 1997 Delgamuukw v British Columbia court case of the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en peoples, comprehensive consultations are required for major projects in traditional lands. As a result of consultations, the 42-kilometre (26 mi) "South of Houston" section of the pipeline was changed in 2017 to be 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) south of the originally planned route.
Other alternative routes proposed by the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs during the six years prior to construction were rejected by Coastal GasLink. Reasons originally cited on August 21, 2014, included longer distances, unsuitability for a pipeline of the necessary diameter, closer proximity to urban communities, and the requirement to consult with four additional First Nations, which would add up to a year to development time. On January 27, Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer stated that the current route was the most technically viable and minimized impact to the environment. On February 14, 2020, Coastal GasLink released a 2014 letter in which Coastal GasLink proposed an alternate route called the Morice River North Alternate that would have moved the project three to five kilometres north of the present route, but it went unanswered by the office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs. According to Coastal GasLink, the company has held over 120 meetings with the hereditary chiefs since 2012 and over 1,300 phone calls and emails.
Approval was given by twenty elected First Nation band councils (including the Wetʼsuwetʼen elected band council) along the proposed route and the Government of British Columbia. As a part of their agreement, TC Energy announced it will be awarding CA$620 million in contract work to northern B.C. First Nations.
The BC Environmental Assessment Office approved the pipeline project in 2014. The project submitted an application for permits to construct the pipeline to the BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) in 2014 and was granted all necessary permits by the BCOGC between 2015 and 2016.
The project is opposed by the hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, other First Nations peoples, and environmental activists. The chiefs claim a responsibility to protect the traditional territory lands, stating that the role of the elected band councils, imposed under the Indian Act, is only to maintain reserves. According to Paul Manly, Green Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, the elected councils have not "consented" but merely "conceded," to the project, seen as inevitable. One of the hereditary chiefs Freda Huson is the main organizer of the Unist'ot'en Camp and one of the main opponents of the project. "Without our land, we aren't who we are. The land is us and we are the land." The energy industry "want to take, take, take. And they aren’t taking no for an answer."
Opponents to the project also note that the 22,000 square kilometres (8,500 sq mi) of Wetʼsuwetʼen territory was never ceded to the Government of Canada. The then colony of British Columbia did not enter into treaties with First Nations peoples over much of its territory (one exception being the 1850–1854 Douglas treaties), including the Wetʼsuwetʼen people before joining Canada, and the chiefs claim that aboriginal title over the Wetʼsuwetʼen peoples' traditional land has not been extinguished as a consequence. The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that principle in the 1997 Delgamuukw v British Columbia decision.
Others oppose the pipeline on environmental grounds. "When burned, this natural gas (transported through the completed pipeline) is equivalent 585.5 million pounds of CO2 a day...13 percent of Canada's daily greenhouse gas emissions in 2017." In 2018, environmental activist Michael Sawyer challenged the approval of the pipeline, filing a formal application to require the federal National Energy Board to do a full review. The NEB ruled that the project fell under the jurisdiction of the province of British Columbia, and its British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission.
Proponents of the project, who include the First Nations LNG Alliance, which says its elected leaders were not consulted about the pipeline by BC and UN human rights officials, point to agreed opportunities from indigenous contracting. Crystal Smith, the chief counsellor of the Haisla Nation, which has signed an agreement to allow the pipeline to pass through its traditional land. "First Nations have been left out of resource development for too long, ... But we are involved, we have been consulted and we will ensure there are benefits for all First Nations." Another was Victor Jim, an elected chief of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, who signed off on the benefits deal. On February 19, 200 members of the Wetʼsuwetʼen community attended a meeting in Houston organized by the pro-pipeline The North Matters group. Robert Skin, a councillor with the Skin Tyee First Nation, said the project "will look after our children and our children’s children." He was critical of the protesters: "They want to stand up with their fists in the air, but I say come and listen to us and get the other side of the story before you go out there and stop traffic and stop the railroad."
The project and the protests exposed divisions within the Wetʼsuwetʼen and Mohawk First Nations. The hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen opposed the project, while the elected band councils supported it, leading to a call for "a cohesive voice". Crystal Smith called for the divisions between Wet’suwet’en hereditary and elected chiefs to be resolved internally. The blockade by the Tyendinaga Mohawks was not organized by the band leadership, while the Haudenosaunee Confederacy external relations committee issued a statement condemning the "RCMP Invasion". The hereditary chiefs travelled to the various Mohawk communities to give thanks for their support but met with a third organization, the Mohawk Nation, a separate form of government comprising the various Mohawk communities in Canada and the United States. Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon of the Kanesatake Mohawk First Nation called on protesters to end the rail blockades as a show of good faith. "Bringing down the blockades doesn't mean that you surrender. It doesn't mean we're going to lay down and let them kick us around. No, it would show compassion. I'm simply pleading with the protesters ... Have you made your point yet? Has the government and industry understood? I think they did." The next day, Simon disavowed his comments after reserve residents barred him from the band council office. Columnist John Ivison suggested that the situation highlights a need to move on a legislative framework for restructuring authority between the elected councils mandated by the Indian Act and traditional hereditary governments.
Protests began with the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs and their supporters blocking access to the pipeline construction camps in Wetʼsuwetʼen territory. On January 7, 2019, the RCMP conducted a raid and dismantled the blockades after CGL was granted an injunction by the BC Supreme Court, arresting several Wetʼsuwetʼen activists. On January 10, the Wetʼsuwetʼen and RCMP came to an agreement to allow access. The blockades were subsequently rebuilt. After the RCMP again removed the Wetʼsuwetʼen blockades and arrested Wetʼsuwetʼen activists in February 2020, solidarity protests sprang up across Canada. Many were rail blockades, including the blocking of the main CNR rail line through Eastern Ontario. Passenger rail and freight rail movements were blocked for several weeks, leading to rationing of goods, other goods backlogged and several major ports being shut down.
Wetʼsuwetʼen protesters blocked the Morice Forest Service Road that provides access to construction of the pipeline project. The first injunction was issued by the B.C. Supreme Court in December 2018. The RCMP set up a temporary local office on the Morice Forest Service Road to enforce the injunction. This injunction was extended by the B.C. Supreme Court on December 31, 2019. The extension included an order authorizing the RCMP to enforce the injunction. The hereditary chiefs ordered the eviction of the RCMP and Coastal GasLink personnel.
The RCMP announced January 30, 2020, that they would stand down while the hereditary chiefs and the province met to discuss and try to come to an agreement. However, all parties issued statements on February 4, 2020 that the talks had broken down. On February 3, the Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen asked for a judicial review of the environmental approval for the pipeline.
On February 6, the RCMP began enforcing the injunction, arresting a total of 21 protesters at camps along the route between February 6 and 9. The largest of those camps is Unistʼotʼen Camp, directly in the path of the pipeline, established in 2010 as a checkpoint, which has since added a healing centre. The arrests included protest organizers Karla Tait, Freda Huson and Brenda Michell. All were released within two days. The RCMP also detained several reporters and were accused of interfering with the freedom of the press. Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip stated that "we are in absolute outrage and a state of painful anguish as we witness the Wetʼsuwetʼen people having their title and rights brutally trampled on and their right to self-determination denied."
On February 11, 2020, the RCMP announced that the road to the construction site was cleared and TC Energy announced that work would resume the following Monday. After the hereditary chiefs made it a condition for talks with government, the RCMP closed their local office and moved to their detachment in Houston on February 22.
Protests sprang up across Canada in solidarity with the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs. On February 11, protesters surrounded the BC Legislature in Victoria, preventing traditional ceremonies around the reading of the Throne Speech by the Lieutenant Governor. Members of the Legislature had to have police assistance to enter or used back or side entrances. Protesters assembled outside government offices in Victoria on February 14, and a representative of the BC government employees union advised its members to treat the protest as a picket line. Other protests took place in Nelson, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Sherbrooke, and Halifax.
Other First Nations, activists and other supporters of the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs have targetted railway lines. Near Belleville, Ontario, members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation began a blockade of the Canadian National Railway rail line just north of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory on February 6, 2020, causing Via Rail to cancel trains on their Toronto–Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa routes. The line is critical to the CNR network in Eastern Canada as CNR has no other east-west rail lines through Eastern Ontario.
Other protests blocking rail lines halted service on Via Rail's Prince Rupert and Prince George lines, running on CNR tracks. Protests on the CNR line west of Winnipeg additionally blocked the only trans-Canada passenger rail route. Protests disrupted GO train lines in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Exo's Candiac line in Montreal. Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) rail lines were also disrupted in downtown Toronto and south of Montreal. The Société du Chemin de fer de la Gaspésie (SCFG) freight railway between Gaspé and Matapedia was blockaded on February 10 by members of the Listuguj Miꞌgmaq First Nation.
Starting on February 6, Via Rail announced passenger train cancellations on a day-to-day basis. Trains on the Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal routes were cancelled first. Prince George-Prince Rupert service was suspended on February 11. Canadian National Railway (CNR) rail freight traffic was also halted along these lines. Other Canadian routes were intermittently disrupted as well.