POLITICS

Treaty society seeks justice minister's help to end office blockade

05/09/2012 03:36 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT
HAZELTON, B.C. - The Gitxsan Treaty Society wants Justice Minister Shirley Bond to step into a festering dispute by helping the chiefs regain control of its blockaded office in northwestern British Columbia.

The chiefs sent a letter to Bond asking her to pressure the RCMP to follow a B.C. Supreme Court ruling issued April 3 that urges enforcement of an injunction ending the blockade.

Protesters boarded up the society's Hazelton office in December after the society announced support for the proposed Enbridge (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline carrying oil from Alberta to Kitimat.

Demonstrators refused to leave — even after the society reversed its pipeline support in January — and society spokeswoman Beverley Clifton Percival said Wednesday the RCMP's reluctance to enforce the injunction amounts to a double standard.

"We've repeatedly asked the RCMP to enforce the injunction and they've refused to do so," she said. "Their answer has been in their actions, which has been to do nothing."

She said the hereditary chiefs and treaty society officials tried to get back into the office on December 29, but were prevented by the protesters who have set up a 24-hour camp in a vacant lot next to the building.

Clifton Percival said she and others have been working for months from home offices, but the blockade has made it difficult to conduct normal operations.

But it appears not all Gitxsan support re-opening of the office.

Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Norman Stephens said the society does not speak for the Gitxsan people and he's angry that the society is asking for fines or a six-month jail term for blockaders.

RCMP Const. Lesley Smith said the Mounties have been working to reach a negotiated end to the blockade as opposed to moving in with force.

She said the RCMP has suggested a mediator to work with everyone involved in order to resolve the situation peacefully.

"We are in the early stages of enforcement, but with the hopes that mediation will resolve the dispute and enforcement measures will not be required," said Smith. "The RCMP remains impartial in this dispute."

The matter returns to B.C. Supreme Court in Smithers, 70 kilometres south of Hazelton, on May 14, and Stephens vowed to appeal if the injunction ordering an end to the blockade is not overturned.

Bond was not immediately available for comment.

In Wednesday's letter to Bond, the chiefs ask the minister to "direct the force to do what they are sworn to do and what we as B.C. taxpayers are paying them to do: enforce the law."