During a violent assault on a remote Coastal GasLink construction site in northwestern British Columbia, attackers disrupted lighting and video surveillance systems and commandeered heavy equipment, causing damage estimated to be in the millions of dollars, the company said Friday.
The RCMP have received video and photos taken before the equipment was vandalized in the attack.
Police are attempting to identify suspects among the reported 20 to 40 people involved in the coordinated terrorist attack that occurred just after midnight on Thursday.
RCMP Chief Supt. Warren Brown, commander of the B.C. northern district, admitted it would be difficult because they arrived at the site disguised and masked.
“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.
Elected First Nation councils along the route support the proposal, while Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who claim to be the guardians of their traditional area, oppose it.
Supporters have set up blockades near the site of Thursday’s attacks, and heavily armed RCMP teams have been executing a court order prohibiting the operations.
Masked thugs, some holding axes, intimidated nine contract employees on the night shift, ordering them to leave and then hitting 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.”
Brown stated on Friday that he had 40 detectives in the area. They were going around to camps and rural homes along the road, asking whether anyone had seen anything or had been threatened.
“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.”
Protests and rail blockades by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs over the pipeline erupted across Canada in 2020. Coastal GasLink was granted an injunction against blockades, and the corporation was served with an eviction notice by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
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 went into greater detail regarding the threats and violence that RCMP officers had to deal with in the early hours of Thursday.
Officers responding to cries for assistance from pipeline workers discovered a lit-on-fire banner strewn across the road, followed by trees illegally cut and placed as illegal blockades.
As cops exited their vehicles to clear them away with chainsaws, terrorists at the tree line set fire to other trees and tossed lit torches, smoke bombs, and other things at officers, mocking 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 terrorists further “out of their own safety,” Brown said.
Other Western premiers have asked for the federal government to take a stronger action on the situation in British Columbia.
On Friday, Premiers Jason Kenney of Alberta and Scott Moe of Saskatchewan took to social media to challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to respond to the terrorist attack at the Coastal GasLink facility.
“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.