RCMP and Coastal GasLink agreed to back away from operations in Wet'suwet'en traditional territory while senior government leaders meet with the group of hereditary chiefs opposed to development of a natural gas pipeline in the area.
The Canadian Press reported Federal Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser arrived separately for the meeting in Smithers, to start the long-sought talks aimed at ending the impasse which has seen lengthy blockades of railways and roads in solidarity with the group of hereditary chiefs and their supporters, including members of the Unist'ot'en Camp.
"The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have committed the road will remain open during their discussions with the federal and provincial governments. Therefore, the RCMP has confirmed that patrols along the Morice West Forest Service Road will cease during the period of discussions with the government representatives," an RCMP statement issued on Thursday said. "The RCMP has agreed not to patrol the road unless there is an emergency call for service, such as a motor vehicle accident with injuries. To ensure the hereditary chiefs' commitment is being respected, members of the Wet'suwet'en Rangers will patrol the road, while talks are being held. They will confirm to the RCMP that the road is clear and there are no obstructions."
National protests began after the RCMP enforced a B.C. Supreme Court injunction in February and removed barricades and arrested protesters who had prevented work on the 670-kilometre, $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline in the area since Jan. 3.
A statement published on the Unist'ot'en Camp's Facebook account on Thursday morning said the RCMP had violated the agreement reached on Wednesday by sending a patrol on the Morice West Forest Service Road.
"At 8:53 (a.m.) this morning the RCMP was seen patrolling the Morice Forestry Road, breaking the agreement with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to withdraw RCMP during talks with the Federal and Provincial Government," the post said. "Solidarity actions continue across Canada demanding full withdrawal of RCMP on unceded Wet'suwet'en territory."
In an email, Dawn Roberts – director in charge of B.C. RCMP communications – said the agreement had not been violated.
"Both of us agreed that it was to start when the meetings started. We ended our patrols at 11:00 am this morning," Roberts said. "We are fully aware of the mutual agreement, continue to act in good faith and are dealing directly with the Hereditary Chiefs who have not advised of any concerns."
In a statement issued on Thursday, Coastal GasLink said it agreed to halt operations in the Morice River area for two days to allow talks to happen.
"We fully support the efforts of all parties to and are committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the current issues," the statement said. "The Morice River area is extremely important to our construction schedule. The Wet'suwet'en territory has ungulate winter range and migratory bird restrictions that prohibit work during certain periods of the year. Work is also limited during the winter periods due to heavy snow. However, Coastal GasLink recognizes the importance of dialogue in solving the issues with the hereditary chiefs and will provide time for dialogue to occur by temporarily pausing construction in the Morice River area."
Work in the area was paused for five weeks already this year, while the company sought to resolve issues with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and Unist'ot'en Camp members.
— With files from The Canadian Press