On the morning before dawn Friday, Nov. 19, Sleydo Molly Wickham, a wing chief at the Cas Yikh house of the Gidimten clan, checks communications at a small house located near a GasLink coastal drilling site along the Wedzin Kwa (Morice) River.
Although light has not yet penetrated the small wooden structure, Wickham is already conducting media interviews. Her supporters in the one-room structure begin to sit as they hear Wickham tell a reporter that “several RCMP buses have been seen climbing the hill”.
By afternoon, an RCMP tactical team and officers specially trained with the Community-Industry Response Team are advancing on the small structure, with snipers and dog units on standby. Shaylynn Sampson, a Gitxsan supporter, has her ear to the door, listening when the action comes. She pulls back a few moments before an ax breaks the door, sending jagged pieces of wood flying into the crowded space. A police dog barks and groans incessantly and a chainsaw screams as the RCMP continues to knock down the door.
Inside, five peaceful land defenders await their imminent arrest. They do not resist. They do not carry weapons. An officer, armed with an assault rifle and wearing military-style clothing, pushes the barrel of his weapon through the broken door.
Lower your weapon! Wickham shouts. This is Wetsuweten sovereign land, you guys should leave right away. You have no authority here. Wickham asked the RCMP if they had an order to enter the apartment. The RCMP responded that they were entering under the authority ofand Offshore GasLink DIRECTION, secured against opponents of the 670-kilometer pipeline in December 2019.
The use of force by the RCMP on this day will be done criticized round as excessive as a response to a small group of peaceful indigenous pipeline opponents. More than 40 media and press freedom organizations have call Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino, to investigate the arrest of journalists by the RCMP and prevent them from happening in the future.
In all, 15 people, including me and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano, were arrested that day and jailed by the RCMP for several nights under civilian contempt of court charges. More than 30 people were arrested throughout the week. Wet’suwet’en inheritance chiefs, who have resolutely opposed the construction of pipelines across their pristine territory in the north of BC, issued an eviction order against the company on January 4, 2020, but work on the pipeline is ongoing.
Following the media arrests, RCMP officers confiscated the recording equipment, so the public could not see the documentary photos and footage of Friday ‘s arrest until recently.
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