All contempt charges have been dropped against 14 people who were arrested at a blockade in northern British Columbia in January for barring access to a pipeline company.
“I felt like there was a little bit of justice today,” said Molly Wickham, one of the 14, outside the Prince George, B.C., courthouse Monday. “Relief, huge, huge relief.”
“They have wisely decided not to proceed,” said lawyer Martin Peters, who was acting for Wickham and several others. “I’m delighted … they saw the wisdom of stepping aside.”
Those arrested feared fines or jail time
Wickham said she had been worried about facing fines or jail time.
“Those are things we should not have to experience as Indigenous people holding up our own laws on our own territories.”
The arrest of Wickham and 13 others by heavily armed RCMP officers sparked protests in cities across Canada and made international headlines.
The RCMP moved in to enforce a court injunction giving Coastal GasLink access to a pipeline route on contested land.
Unist’ot’en clan oppose pipeline
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with numerous Indigenous communities. But the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation oppose the pipeline project through their traditional territories.
A large portion of the proposed 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline is slated to go through the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s traditional territory — a route rejected by most of the nation’s hereditary chiefs.
Those arrested near the Unist’ot’en camp were all facing civil contempt proceedings, for disobeying a court order by blocking or interfering with Coastal GasLink’s pipeline work.
But on Monday morning, Crown lawyer Trevor Shaw of the BC Prosecution Service told the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Prince George that after a “detailed review of the evidence” there wasn’t sufficient evidence for convictions on criminal contempt charges.
Coastal GasLink lawyer Carrie Kaukinen then told the court she would follow the Crown’s lead and that her company would not proceed with civil contempt proceedings.
Justice Marguerite Church agreed to vacate the contempt order.
“There is high public interest, but it is not appropriate to proceed,” Church told the court. “I accept that Coastal GasLink does not wish to proceed.”
A different matter ‘if they continue to disobey’
But Church said the injunction is still in force, requiring pipeline opponents to stay away and let the company do its work.
“If they continue to disobey, it might be quite a different matter.”
Outside the courthouse, Wickham declined to comment on whether she would honour the injunction.
We’re still protecting our territories. This isn’t over by a long shot.– Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Madeek, also known as Jeff Brown
Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Madeek, also known as Jeff Brown, said the struggle continued.
“We’re still protecting our territories,” he said. “This isn’t over by a long shot.”