While arresting indigenous pipeline protesters in northern British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) recently began prohibiting reporters from covering the demonstrations. In response, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a statement demanding that Canadian law enforcement cease restricting access to reporters covering the pipeline protest.
On Sunday, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued a statement saying all five Wet’suwet’en clans, including the Gidimt’en, oppose the construction of oil and gas pipelines in their territory.
“The provincial and federal governments must revoke the permits for this project until the standards of free, prior and informed consent are met,” Phillip said in the news release.
Last October, LNG Canada announced its plans to move ahead with constructing the $6.2 billion pipeline. Although TransCanada subsidiary Coastal GasLink claims that agreements have been signed with all First Nations along the route for LNG Canada’s $40-billion liquefied natural gas project, demonstrators argue that Wet’suwet’en house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected, have not given consent.
According to the RCMP, at least 14 people have been arrested for blockading a forest service road in order to prevent access to the pipeline. Journalists and several media crews attempting to cover the pipeline protests have recently reported that the RCMP is restricting access to the site and prohibiting journalists from witnessing further arrests.
“Authorities in Canada should immediately end the arbitrary restrictions on journalists covering the police breakup of the pipeline protest,” CPJ North America Program Coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck wrote in a press release on Tuesday. “Journalists should be able to freely cover events of national importance, without fear of arrest.”
“It sounds like the RCMP is once again using every tactic that they can to bend the law as much as possible to prevent journalists from gaining access to sites,” said Tom Henheffer, vice president of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). “This is a tactic that is very commonly employed and is very difficult to fight against in the moment because [police] know that when you’ve got a bunch of officers with guns telling people what they can and cannot do, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the law is on the RCMP’s side or not – because it takes too long for a journalist to get a lawyer, go to court to get an order to allow them to get on to the site.”
By restricting access to the demonstrations, Canadian law enforcement are attempting to control the narrative by preventing journalists from witnessing their actions. According to some reports, most communication from the site recently went dark due to an alleged satellite issue, but the RCMP issued a statement on Monday denying any involvement with the suspiciously beneficial disruption of communications in the area.