BY JESSE WINTER and SARAH BERMAN | VICE.COM
All photos by Jesse Winter.
The first sound was a snowmobile, somewhere in the distance.
Then, with no warning, a dozen RCMP vehicles, including prisoner vans and RCMP-branded Suburbans, roared out of the pre-dawn darkness and stopped just short of the watch camp where Wet’suwet’en land defenders have been resisting a court-ordered evacuation of their northern B.C. lands.
Backed up by tactical officers, dog teams, and drones with infrared sensors, dozens of RCMP officers began raiding Wet’suwet’en land defender camps shortly before 5 a.m.
Led by one officer bellowing “Police! Stay Calm!”, dozens of officers flooded into the watch camp.
One read a statement aloud saying that police were enforcing an injunction order and that anyone present had 10 minutes to gather their things and leave, or be arrested and charged with obstruction of justice.
At least six land defenders have so far been arrested, several being dragged away in handcuffs.
Police smashed the window of a truck and dragged out a woman who was naked and had locked herself inside.
One RCMP officer repeatedly threatened a VICE reporter and another journalist with arrest, ordering them out of the camp while they conducted arrests.
Police also attempted to prevent journalists from photographing or filming members of the tactical enforcement teams, the green-clad militarized units which stormed the Gidimt’en barricades a year ago under the supervision of “lethal overwatch.”
VICE saw multiple members of the same unit at the watch camp, armed with what appeared to be sniper and assault rifles.
“Shame on the RCMP! Shame on the colonizer!” land defenders screamed as they were dragged away.
As arrests carried on, RCMP ordered journalists farther and farther away from the scene, apparently in response to orders directly from the tactical enforcement team officers.
On Wednesday, the RCMP held a press conference confirming it would be enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court order to clear a logging road outside of Smithers, B.C., to make way for construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Smithers is about an hour drive from the Morice Forest Access Road where Wet’suwet’en have been staying in spite of that court order.
Assistant commissioner for the police agency Eric Stubbs told reporters that the RCMP had followed recommendations from last year when it raided the same Wet’suwet’en camps.
“We don’t want to use any force; we want to use zero force,” Stubbs said. “Our members are trained to respond to the behaviour they’re presented with.”
In a statement released Thursday morning, Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer said the raid “is not the outcome we wanted.”
“We have made exceptional efforts to resolve this blockade through engagement and dialogue,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s truly unfortunate that we were unable to find a path forward that allowed for the construction of Coastal GasLink with the support of all.”
On social media, land defenders have tracked police movements as they advance down the logging road.
“The convoy just keeps going,” land defender Cody Merriman said in a video posted to the Gidimt’en clan Facebook page.
“We have just learned that heavy machinery has been heard approaching,” Unist’ot’en Camp tweeted at 2 p.m. local time. “A RCMP helicopter is now flying over the Gidimt’en camp.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde released a statement Thursday afternoon condemning the ongoing raid.
“We will never achieve reconciliation through force,” Bellegarde said. “The AFN supports the governance and decision-making process of the Wet’suwet’en leaders. Canada and B.C. should do the same.”