RCMP seek to identify some 20 masked assailants who threatened Coastal GasLink pipeline contractors and caused millions of dollars in damage.
by Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun, Feb 18, 2022
Attackers disabled lighting and video-surveillance equipment during their raid on a remote Coastal GasLink work site in northwestern B.C. and commandeered heavy equipment to inflict damage estimated to be in the millions of dollars, the company said Friday.
Video and photos captured before the equipment was disabled in the attack have been turned over to RCMP.
Police are trying to identify suspects among the reported 20 to 40 individuals involved in the apparently co-ordinated attack that happened on Thursday, just after midnight.
RCMP Chief Supt. Warren Brown, commander of the B.C. northern district, admitted it will be a challenge as they were disguised and masked when they arrived at the site on foot.
“Our people were terrorized during this violent incident,” said Kent Wilfur, a vice-president with Coastal GasLink, the company building the 670-kilometre pipeline intended to feed the $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas plant being built in Kitimat.
The project has the support of elected First Nation councils along the route, but is opposed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who say they are the guardians of their traditional territory.
Supporters have staged blockades near the location of Thursday’s attacks and heavily armed RCMP teams have been enforcing an injunction against the actions.
Politicians lined up Friday to condemn the attack, in which nine contract workers on the night shift were threatened by masked assailants, some wielding axes, who ordered them to leave and then hit their vehicles as they fled.
“The attack this week on a CGL work site is reprehensible,” Premier John Horgan said in a statement. “The damage and destruction are disturbing to all British Columbians.”
Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen, who represents the region, said in a tweet that he was “incredibly troubled by the violent and threatening attack,” and that “those responsible must be brought to account.”
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino called the violence disturbing.
“I want to make it clear that no matter what your cause, or your views are, on any subject matter, there is never any justification for violence toward your fellow Canadians,” including those in law enforcement.
Brown said he had 40 investigators in the area Friday. They were canvassing camps and rural homes along the road to find out if anyone saw anything or had also faced threats.
“We don’t know who they are and I would like to say they’re not protesters, because this is really quite an amped-up level of violence from what we’ve seen any time before in and around here,” Brown said. “This is not about enforcing a court injunction. This is about a specific criminal act that happened on Feb. 17.”
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the pipeline sparked rallies and rail blockades across Canada in 2020. Coastal GasLink obtained an injunction against blockades and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued the company an eviction notice.
The Canadian Press reported that hereditary Chief Na’moks refused to comment on Friday.
“We simply don’t have enough information to make any comments, all we know is no arrests or charges, and harassment of our camps continue,” he said in a text message. “Nothing more than that until we get more information as well.”
Brown addressed speculation that has appeared online that the incident was “a ruse on behalf of the industry to point fingers,” which he characterized as “asinine,” irresponsible and wrong.
“We’ve got a large contingency of police in there and we have that many (the 40 investigators) in there investigating — not policing protests, not policing civil injunctions, (but) policing the criminal acts that happened on the 17th.”
Brown revealed more about the threats and violence responding RCMP officers faced in the early hours of Thursday.
Officers responding to calls for help from the pipeline workers came across a banner stretched across the road that had been lit on fire, then trees that had been felled as roadblocks.
And as officers got out of vehicles to clear them away using chainsaws, assailants at the tree line lit other trees on fire and threw lit torches, smoke bombs and objects at police while taunting them verbally
“When the police gave chase, it appears as though they might have lulled us into a trap,” Brown said, as one officer who gave chase stepped on a stick spiked with long nails that went through a boot.
The few officers on site chose not to pursue the assailants further “out of their own safety,” Brown said.
Other Western premiers called for the federal government to take a more aggressive approach to the situation in B.C.
Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe bluntly challenged the prime minister on social media to respond to the incident at the Coastal GasLink site.
“Will the Trudeau government now seize the bank accounts of the foreign-funded eco-terrorists responsible for this violence?” tweeted Kenney, referring to the financial provisions of the Emergencies Act that permit authorities to target donations made to illegal convoy activities.
“If the Trudeau government is set on using the Emergencies Act to end blockades, then they should also use it to follow the money, seize the associated vehicles and provide all the resources necessary to ensure those illegally acting here are arrested for damaging and blocking this critical export infrastructure,” the premier of Saskatchewan tweeted.