VANCOUVER — An alleged violent incident at a pipeline work site in northern British Columbia that saw people, some armed with axes, attack security guards has left workers traumatized, according to the company behind the project.
In a statement Friday, Coastal GasLink said “approximately” nine workers were on site early Thursday and fled for their safety when the incident took place. The remote work site, about 60 kilometres southwest of the town of Houston, remains a crime scene, the company said.
Damage to portable buildings, heavy machinery and equipment could be in the millions, according to police. Photos in an RCMP news release showed smashed equipment and even flipped heavy machinery; the company said its equipment was commandeered and used to inflict some of the damage.
The attack was the latest in a long list of incidents taking place around the project, which some local Indigenous groups and their supporters have strenuously opposed, arguing hereditary chiefs have not consented to it.
Coastal GasLink said the incident early Thursday involved disabling the site’s lighting and security cameras.
The Mounties’ news release stated that officers were told some of those involved were armed with axes and smashed car windows and attacked security guards. En route to the site the officers encountered various roadblocks including a bus, as well as various items engulfed in flames.
Police said unidentified people threw smoke bombs and lit sticks at officers as the Mounties bypassed “debris and traps.” One officer was injured, but the nature of the injuries was not revealed. Coastal GasLink said images of the attackers have been given to police.
“In the last 24 hours, I have had the opportunity to hear from our workforce, Indigenous and community leaders, governments, and our partners, and all have expressed their outrage about this attack,” said Kent Wilfur, vice-president, project delivery of Coastal GasLink, in Friday’s statement.
The 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline has been controversial in the region and the tension over it has gone national in the past, including rail blockades and protests in 2020. The area the pipeline has been approved to go through has been the setting for lengthy demonstrations as Indigenous groups and supporters of local Indigenous Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have tried to stop its construction.
Elected chiefs support the project, however, and a B.C. court has issued an injunction against those seeking to interfere with it.
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The project has been plagued with environmental issues, according to provincial inspectors, and earlier this week the company ultimately behind the project, TC Energy Corp., said it will be significantly over budget by the time it’s done.
The RCMP said it went to the site early Thursday morning after reports of an attack by a group of about 20 people. Coastal GasLink said the attack came after a series of incidents in recent weeks, including people “confronting and intimidating” workers at the site.
Opponents of the pipeline did not return requests for comment Friday. B.C. Premier John Horgan released a statement saying the incident was disturbing and reprehensible.
“My thoughts are with the workers who were traumatized by this attack and with the RCMP officer who was injured,” Horgan’s release said.
“Intimidation and violence should be condemned by all British Columbians.”
The attack came the same week the federal government implemented the Emergencies Act to tackle the occupation of downtown Ottawa by protesters who have been in the city for three weeks.
On Thursday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said it would be launching a court challenge of the federal government’s use of the act, which gives authorities extraordinary powers to quell dissent.
CCLA’s director of criminal justice Abby Deshman stressed she isn’t familiar with what is going on at the B.C. work site at this time, but that orders under the act could be used against protesters there.
“Certainly they could potentially apply to any protest that is happening in Canada right now,” Deshman said. “The provisions are very broad.”
Those provisions say a person must not participate in a public assembly that could be reasonably expected to create a breach of the peace, she said. Deshman added that it will be up to police to decide what may apply — it could be made to apply to anyone bringing supplies to any protests popping up near the drill site.
Jeremy Nuttall is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports
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