B.C. RCMP officers executed a search warrant last week at a protest camp near the Coastal GasLink pipeline to investigate "another act of violence against pipeline personnel."
According to Mounties from the Houston, B.C. detachment, Coastal GasLink security reported that a group of individuals wearing masks and camouflage swarmed one of its workers on March 26 at 11:40 p.m. at the 43-kilometre mark of the Morice West Forest Service Road.
"The group fired flares and gained access to the work vehicle when the worker left the area because of the intimidation," reads the RCMP statement. "These persons allegedly poured the liquid onto the vehicle and stole a chainsaw from the truck bed."
On Sunday evening, Coastal GasLink confirmed that a group of assailants swarmed one of their workers, saying it was thankful that no one was injured.
A leaked image of the warrant revealed the police were investigating an alleged theft under $5,000 of a STIHL chainsaw with a specific serial number, "olive drab coloured masks," and "coyote brown fatigues."
Police confirmed Thursday they arrested five people while executing the search warrant at the Gidimt'en checkpoint at the 44-kilometre Morice Forest Service Road mark but declined to comment on whether they found the items above.
A video of the incident showed the Mounties instructing five protesters to leave the camp during their search, of which four refused to cooperate with police direction, and the other prevented them from executing the warrant.
The protesters called the arrests "bogus" and described the executed search as a "raid."
"This harassment and intimidation is exactly the kind of violence designed to drive us from our homelands," said Sleydo, a spokesperson for the Gidimt'en checkpoint.
Sleydo claimed the 670-km natural gas pipeline spanning northern B.C. constituted a "colonial project" that criminalizes First Nations "for merely existing on our lands…at the hands of industry's private mercenaries–C-IRG."
The B.C. RCMP established the Community-Industry Response Group in 2017 to provide strategic oversight addressing energy industry incidents and related public order, national security and crime issues.
The spokesperson compared Wednesday's arrests to "Indian agents and the RCMP burning us out of our homes as late as the '50s in our area."
The RCMP's Civilian Review and Complaints Commission has launched an investigation into whether the C-IRG followed the law and its policies during the incident on March 26.
Coastal GasLink continues to express deeply-held concerns for worker safety and the surrounding communities, claiming the swarm attack represents a pattern of violence directed against the energy company.
In February 2022, 20 assailants attacked a Coastal GasLink site near Houston, B.C., injuring several employees and damaging heavy equipment — marking the second anniversary of nationwide blockades in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en protesters in February 2020.
According to the RCMP, 20 people armed with axes stormed security guards, costing millions in damage. Their whereabouts remain unknown, and a $100,000 reward remains open for information concerning the incident.
"Attacks to energy infrastructure should concern all Canadians," said T.C. Energy at the time. "Regardless of their authenticity, we believe these claims are intended to delay our project and spread fear and violence."
"They must not be tolerated or accepted, and we believe most Canadians would agree."
In November, five protesters opposed the construction of Coastal GasLink in a contentious blockade that lasted several days. They plead guilty to criminal contempt for defying a court injunction that prohibited their demonstration.
The assailants received $500 fines or a punishment of 25 hours of community service.
Last month, anonymous claims of a "coordinated sabotage attack" made by an anarchist website suggested an unknown group vandalized the pipeline to "contribute to the small delays" in the already over-budget project.
"We drilled holes less than a penny wide in a section of pipe that had not yet been lowered into the trench. We covered the holes with fibreglass film, which temporarily prevents leaks in the pipes, but only lasts a few months," reads the article.
T.C. Energy found no evidence to suggest tampering has occurred but commented they take every threat seriously.
Former Haisla Nation Chief Councillor and current Skeena B.C. Liberal Ellis Ross said the article's author appears knowledgeable about the project.
"It's somebody who understands how the logistics of the pipeline work," said Ross. "I want to know what we're going to do as a province to combat these terrorist activities."
Another article on the same website claimed responsibility for burning RCMP vehicles and an ambulance in Smithers last October.
"This is dangerous. This is terrorism. I think it's time that we address this violence," said Ross.
"The safety of our workforce, contractors, local Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members, and the public is paramount," said Coastal GasLink in its statement Wednesday.
"This incident continues to highlight acts of violence that have put people, property and the environment at risk. The many women and men on our project deserve to work in a safe environment, without fear of these dangerous acts, while they provide for their families and communities."
Recently, Coastal GasLink has faced ballooning costs and fines for environmental violations.
Tensions between the RCMP and supporters of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have exploded in recent years because the Coastal GasLink pipeline is constructed on the nation's traditional territory.
The estimated cost of the pipeline increased by 29% to $14.5 billion this year, owing to an uptick in unexpected construction issues and rising labour costs. The new price tag is up from an estimated $11.2 billion last July — a significant increase from the previous projection of $6.6 billion.
TC Energy said on February 1 that construction is 83% complete but warned that should construction extend into 2024, building costs could surpass an additional $1.2 billion.
They hope to complete the project by the end of 2023.
Despite elected Indigenous governments reaching compensatory agreements with the energy company, the hereditary chiefs remain vehemently opposed to the project. Hereditary chief Na'Moks described the RCMP's actions on Wednesday as "harassment."
"In the context of the theft of our ancestral land, alleging stolen saws and clothing is outrageous."
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also expressed outrage at Wednesday's arrests.
"These arrests continue the troubling pattern of police intimidation of Indigenous people asserting their rights to access their territories and rejecting fossil fuel extraction," they said.
"UBCIC unequivocally stands with those standing up for the title and rights of the hereditary leadership of the Wet'suwet'en."