Criminal contempt charges against 14 people who were arrested at an anti-pipeline site in January were dropped on April 15.
Members of the group at the Gidimt’en blockade south of Houston were arrested on Jan. 7 when RCMP officers enforced a court injunction that would give workers with Coastal GasLink (CGL) access to a pipeline site.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for the BC Prosecution Service told Black Press that the service advised the court that there wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction on criminal contempt charges.
”The civil party also indicated an unwillingness to proceed. As a result there will be no contempt proceedings either criminal or civil,” he said.
In a press release, CGL said, “Given the prosecution’s submission, Coastal GasLink agreed that in the circumstances it was not appropriate to pursue civil contempt charges against those arrested.”
Jenn Wickham, a spokeswoman for the Gidimt’en blockade site protesters, welcomed the court’s decision.
“We’re really grateful that this part is all over with and that the judge saw things for what they are,” Wickham said.
“[What] stands out for us is the process. They were not really interested in following their own legal processes. They were just trying to remove us from our territory as quickly as possible and they didn’t consider the law. One of the reasons why they weren’t able to proceed with charges is because they didn’t read out the injunction at the camp,” she explained.
A CGL press release on April 15 quoted company president David Pfeiffer saying dialogue will continue with people opposed to the natural gas project.
“Our approach continues to be one of respectful and meaningful dialogue, focused on listening to all concerns and resolving issues as best we can in a peaceful and constructive manner. We are committed to working collaboratively with local and Indigenous communities as we progress construction. This is a critical natural gas pipeline project that will bring social and economic benefits to British Columbia and First Nations, while safely meeting the growing global demand for cleaner energy.”
But Wickham said that CGL hasn’t spoken with her group at all.
“There was supposed to be someone to come out to the Gidimt’en camp, the day they came in with the military and the RCMP. It never happened.”
With the charges dropped, Wickham said the group is focusing on their work near the Gidimt’en site.
“We’re continuing to rebuild our infrastructure for our cultural activities at the access point. We have no other immediate plans.”
A charge of assaulting a police officer with a weapon at the blockade site on Jan. 7 still stands against Anton William Bueckert. His first appearance in court is scheduled for May 13.
The Gidimt’en clan forms part of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, some of whose hereditary chiefs oppose the construction of the pipeline in what they say is traditional Wet’suwet’en territory.
The elected leadership of 20 First Nations in northwestern British Columbia have signed agreements with CGL on the pipeline project.
However, some hereditary chiefs and their supporters say elected band councils have jurisdiction only on reserve lands and not on the larger traditional territories.