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Coastal GasLink Trial of wet’suwet’en chief and land defenders begins

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Molly Wickham, also called Sleydo', is one of the most important figures in the Wet'suwet'en struggle against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. (Archive photo)

Radio-Canada

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Three people charged with criminal contempt for violating a court injunction prohibiting them from blocking access to the Coastal GasLink pipeline have been on trial since Monday in British Columbia Supreme Court in Smithers.

The three people were arrested on November 19, 2021 during a police raid aimed at enforcing the injunction related to the construction of the gas pipeline. They then occupied a key location on the site. They all pleaded not guilty. The case is being heard by Judge Michael Tammen.

Among the defendants is Sleydo', also known as Molly Wickham. She was the face of a high-profile Indigenous land rights movement. She is the leader of one of the clans of the Wet'suwet'en nation.

Sleydo' is on trial alongside Shaylynn Sampson, a Gitxsan woman with family ties to the Wet'suwet'en Nation, and Corey Jocko, a Mohawk from the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Coastal GasLink was contracted to construct a 670 km natural gas pipeline to transport natural gas across northern British Columbia to the terminal in Kitimat. The gas is then intended to be exported to Asia.

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The 670 km long gas pipeline connects Dawson Creek to Kitimat. It was completed last October, but is not yet operational.

In 2018, the company signed agreements with 20 elected band councils whose lands are located along the project route. Several Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs refused to allow the gas pipeline to cross their territory.

Opponents of the gas pipeline, who present themselves as land defenders, then launched a series of demonstrations and blockades in the name of the hereditary chiefs.

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In December 2019, the Supreme Court of British Columbia granted Coastal GasLink an injunction prohibiting protesters from obstructing the construction of the equipment.

Construction of the gas pipeline was completed in October, but it is not yet operational.

The Crown called two witnesses to the stand on the first day of the trial. The first was Julie Jones, a private investigator hired by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to collect and preserve videos posted on social media accounts powered by wet'suwet'en land advocacy groups.

Five of the videos saved by the investigator were played during the trial. Several of them can still be viewed publicly on the Gidimt'en Checkpoint Facebook page. We see Sleydo' in particular.

The second witness called to the stand was James Lank, a former RCMP officer. He was working as a security advisor for Coastal GasLink at the material time. Two videos recorded by James Lank were released on Monday.

In the first, recorded on September 25, 2021, James Lank and other Coastal GasLink employees confront land defenders at a dam site. CBC/Radio-Canada heard audio from these videos, but was unable to view them because there is no video feed for the trial, only a conference call line.

Questioned during the hearing, James Lank assures that Sleydo' and Shaylynn Sampson appear in the images.

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In November 2021, police officers remove an opponent of the gas pipeline project carried by Coastal GasLink. (Archive photo)

In the second video, recorded on November 14, 2021, we witness the clash between Coastal GasLink employees and opponents of the project, again at the 'place where there is a dam.

In the registration, land defenders assert the First Nation's rights under Wet'suwet'en law to restrict unauthorized access to its land. They demand that the work be stopped. Coastal GasLink employees then read the 2019 injunction and ask land defenders to remove the dam.

James Lank points out that the #x27;Corey Jocko can be seen in this video.

The Crown intends to call seven witnesses during the trial. This is expected to last two weeks.

This is the second trial involving criminal contempt charges linked to the raids police in November 2021. Sabina Dennis was acquitted by Judge Tammen in November.

The hearing will resume Tuesday, at 10 a.m. The defense will then cross-examine James Lank.

With information from Jackie McKay

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