Having arrested 6 Wet’suwet’en defenders on 6 Feb the RCMP arrested another 4 on Friday and 11 more on Saturday 8 Feb in the ongoing conflict between the Wet’suwet’en First Nation (Gilseyhu, Laksilyu, Tsayu, Laksamshu, Gitdumdenet) on one side and corporate interests (TC Energy Corp, LNG Canada, Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi Corp, Kogas Canada)and the state (BC, Canada) on the other. The arrests are pursuant to an injunction granted by the BC Supreme court against the Wet’suwet’en blockade of on the $6.6-billion dollar Coastal GasLink pipeline project.
In extending the injunction on Dec. 31, Justice Marguerite Church is reported to have said, “the Wet’suwet’en people are deeply divided with respect to either opposition to or support for the pipeline project.” As I have noted before, the 5 Wet’suwet’en elected band councils which derive their authority on reservation lands from the Indian Act support the pipeline, while the Hereditary chiefs who claim title to wider territories on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation oppose it.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline, which crosses unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, is owned by TC Energy Corp (formerly TransCanada) with LNG Canada(Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi Corp, Kogas Canada) as a venture partner, whose significance is indicated in TC Energy Corp’s own documents which describe it as a ‘customer’. In other words the pipeline is being built for LNG Canada with investment from LNG Canada, in which Malaysia’s PETRONAS corporation holds a 25% stake.
According to a post on the UNIST’OT’EN website Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have submitted a formal request to the United Nations to monitor RCMP (police), government and Coastal GasLink (CGL) actions on their traditional, unceded territory. This request follows the directive from the UN Committee on Racial Discrimination (CERD) requiring Canada to halt the pipeline project and withdraw RCMP from our territory in order to avoid further violations of Wet’suwet’en, constitutional, and international law. This submission reveals the Chiefs’ perception of the imminent threat posed by the RCMP and security forces currently surrounding Wet’suwet’en villages and lands.
As I have noted before Malaysia’s PETRONAS crown corporation holds a 25% stake in LNG Canada’s Kitimat development which is totally dependant on this CGLpipeline. This pipeline is intended to transport natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat and much of this gas will come from PETRONAS’ own North Montney fields. As noted in the Globe and Mail, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination says that it is imperative that all affected First Nations give free, prior and informed consent before the pipeline proceeds. So once again, the interests of the exemplary Malaysian bumiputra (indigenous) led enterprise is contrary to the those of a group of indigenous people from British Columbia.
Malaysia’s PETRONAS crown corporation holds a 25% stake in LNG Canada’s CAD $ 40 billion project in Kitimat. This massive development is dependant on the Coastal GasLink pipeline that TransCanada is building to transport the natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. To realize the extent of PETRONAS’ interest in the completion of this pipeline, it is important to understand that much of the natural gas that will flow to Kitimat through the pipeline will come from PETRONAS’ own North Montney fields. While this pipeline has been approved by the B.C. and federal governments, it has been criticized by Amnesty International, the B.C.’s Human Rights Commission and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. As noted in the Globe and Mail, the UN committee says that it is imperative that all affected First Nations give free, prior and informed consent before the pipeline proceeds. So once again, the interests of the exemplary Malaysian bumiputra (indigenous) led enterprise is contrary to the those of a group of indigenous people from British Columbia.
Although there are reportedly signed benefit with most of First Nations involved in the passage of the pipeline, there is opposition from the Wet’suwet’en Nation who have built the Unist’ot’en healing camp in its path. As explained in the Globe and Mail, the opposition to the pipeline “hinges on an old question many First Nations in Canada face: Whether authority over resource development lies with elected band councils, hereditary leaders or both. Five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils, whose authority is coded in the federal Indian Act, signed agreements with Coastal GasLink, along with 15 other B.C. elected band councils that accepted the pipeline. But the Wet’suwet’en also have a system of five matrilineal clans and 13 houses, each of which has at least one hereditary chief. Together the chiefs oversee traditional territories that, like many First Nations lands in B.C., were never ceded by treaty. Two house chiefs supported the pipeline, only to have their titles stripped by other chiefs. Eight of the house chiefs say the risk of environmental damage to the land is too great to allow the pipeline, and are part of the movement against it.”
On March 25 2019 the BC NDP government passed a law conceding tax exemptions and commitments to low electricity prices to the industry. The NDP has, despite challenging the previous Liberals government on their concessions to the PETRONAS Lelu Island LNG initiative, in fact often foreshadowed their present pro-LNG position. According to Carol Linnitt this NDP concession amounts to an incentive package worth an estimated $5.35 billion (I presume this is calculated over the 40 year accounting period being used in appraising this development) to the LNG Canada consortium of which PETRONAS itself is a 25% stake-holder.
Although PETRONAS’ own $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG processing and shipping terminal on Lelu Island was aborted in the face of Lax Kwa’laams opposition and a collapsing market, this Malaysian crown corporation has persisted with its interest in downstream LNG development in British Columbia. Upstream, PETRONAS is presently one of the largest producers of natural gas in the province and, according to Ben Parfitt, it is the “the single-largest subsurface rights holder of natural gas assets in Northeast B.C.” While PETRONAS is well set for prominence both upstream and downstream in the BC LNG industry it, there is a blockage for them midstream. Development of the connecting Coastal Gaslink pipeline has been retarded by determined resistance from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, through whose territory in must pass.
PETRONAS is now a partner in the LNG Canada Kitimat project which involves building an export terminal intended to get natural gas from the North Montney fields to market in Asia. The Coastal Gaslink Pipeline connecting Dawson Creek to Kitimat is an essential part of the overall scheme. Gas from PETRONAS’ own North Montney fields to be delivered via the North Montney Mainline to join the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline at Dawson Creek. While there has been extensive first nations buy-in into the project, including from the elected Wet’suwet’en band council, the hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation, who claim responsibility for off-reserve affairs and for the stewardship of the larger territory through which the pipeline must pass have voiced serious objections. The Wet’suwet’en have established an Unist’ot’en checkpoint at in 2009 and have steadily developed the Unist’ot’en healing camp over the years. More recently and a second check point was established at neighbouring Gidimt’en to resist the passage of the pipeline.
So what is the significance of the blockade given the injunction and the overwhelming momentum of the provincial/ national /corporate resource agenda? Much of the land of British Columbia was settled without treaties being reached with the respective First Nations. In a decision of the Supreme Court in Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia (1997), it was held that that Aboriginal title to land can be established if an Indigenous nation could prove exclusive occupation when the Crown asserted sovereignty. Delgamuukw did not however settle the Wet’suwet’en land claim and as such, it will require another trial to resolve the matter. According to law professor Kent McNeil, as reported in Houston Today, it is in this light that the hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en are “asserting their title on the ground and they’re saying you can’t do this without consent because it passes through our territory.”
According to the Tyee, on January 7th, in pursuance of a court injunction against the two checkpoints (not the healing camp as it is not in the way of the pipeline), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) tactical unit breeched and dismantled the Gidimt’en checkpoint, arresting 14 protesters. According to The Interior News, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have negotiated with the RCMP to allow Costal Gaslink workers passage through the Unist’ot’en checkpoint for the duration of the injunction which lasts till May 1st 2019. As with PETRONAS’ previously aborted solo project on Lelu Island, their current joint venture in British Columbia’s LNG sector faces the vicissitudes of Canadian Law and politics in the context of our colonial legacy. If it is established that the Wet’suwet’en have Aboriginal title, then, according to Kent McNeil, the Provincial and Federal governments would need their consent before approving resource activities on this land. Even if such a finding of title is not arrived at, as with the previous PETRONAS project, indigenous resistance and the due process may cause enough delay for the joint venture LNG Canada project to run into the ever imminent ‘unfavourable conditions’ in the ever volatile market.
In an earlier post I had noted how on July 13 2018, LNG Canada formally welcomed PETRONAS as their fifth Joint Venture participant and how this investment was connected with TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline that is building to transport the natural gas from Dawson Creek to the LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat. Much of the gas to be transported to market via the pipeline and terminal will , of course, come from PETRONAS owned Progress Energy’s own gas fields in the North Montney area. On November 22, 2018 Progress Energy Canada Ltd. changed its name to PETRONAS Energy Canada Ltd. (PETRONAS Canada). Mark Fitzgerald, President & CEO of PETRONAS Canada said, “The name change is a reflection of our parent company’s commitment to Canada and the strength of our business in the company’s overall portfolio.” Malaysian Crown corporation PETRONAS now not only owns one of the largest natural gas resources in the Montney basin, but is also a key player in getting Canadian LNG to market across the Pacific ocean.