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'Our people were terrorized': Coastal GasLink releases new details, images of attack on worksite

The company building the Coastal GasLink pipeline across Northern B.C. has released new images and details about a violent attack on a worksite near Houston.

The company building the Coastal GasLink pipeline across Northern B.C. has released new images and details about a violent attack on a worksite outside Houston.

Coastal GasLink and the RCMP say a masked mob of about 20 swarmed the site on Feb. 17, shortly after midnight, causing millions of dollars in damage and threatening the lives of workers.

“Our people were terrorized during this violent incident. In the last 24 hours, I have had the opportunity to hear from our workforce, Indigenous and community leaders, governments, and our partners, and all have expressed their outrage about this attack,” said Kent Wilfur, Vice President Project Delivery, Coastal GasLink.

“We appreciate the outpouring of support for our workers, including the labour unions who represent them, and stand together in condemning these actions.”

In an update last Friday, the company said nine pipeline workers were on the night shift when the attack occurred. Photo and video evidence has been turned over to the RCMP, which is processing the worksite as a crime scene.

The company says the attackers disabled lighting and video surveillance at the worksite as a part of the attack and heavy equipment was commandeered to cause major damage to other equipment.

A yellow school bus was also used to block the road and slow the police response to the site, about 60 kilometres from Houston. Felled trees, fires and tire spikes were also used on the roadway.

It is not known where the attackers went after fleeing the scene. RCMP reported their officers were attacked with burning sticks and smoke bombs.

As soon as the attack was publicized, conspiracy theories started to circulate that the attack was staged by RCMP and Coastal GasLink. Skeptics raised questions about a lack of video evidence in the initial announcement.

Coastal GasLink called those suggestions offensive.

“We are aware of reports that wrongly suggest that this attack was staged. We find these suggestions offensive and irresponsible as they only serve to retraumatize the workers who experienced the violent attack,” Wilfur added.

The company says the attackers wielded axes, swinging them at vehicles and through a truck's window. Flare guns were also allegedly fired at workers, although nobody was hurt.

Over the weekend, Coastal GasLink said workers were still coming to terms with the attack, sharing the story of one worker, a security guard named Trevor, who recounted as his truck was surrounded by assailants.

The company said he was alone in his truck while an overnight crew prepped a drill pad site nearby. Up to five attackers surrounded his truck and smashed it with axes, and chased him as he tried to drive away, the company said.

“It’s very dark. We had a light tower there, so the area is lit up, but the area around it, the bush, is quite dark,” he is quoted as saying. “I keep both windows rolled down, just a little bit, just so I can hear things … I could hear yelling all of a sudden.”

“To have somebody come at you with an axe is, you know, a whole other level of … fear,” he said.

Politicians of all stripes in both B.C. and federally have condemned the attack.

Premier John Horgan called the attack "reprehensible," saying the damage and destruction are disturbing.

"The B.C. government understands the seriousness of this violent and criminal act," he said in a statement.

"Intimidation and violence should be condemned by all British Columbians."

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as well as former Edmonton and Calgary mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi called the violence "deplorable" on social media.

In a tweet, Kenney raised the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act to end a blockade against COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa, asking if similar measures would be used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the attack at Coastal GasLink.

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council also denounced the violent attack.

The tribal council said in a statement the attack goes against Carrier Sekani values of respect for the land and for each other. The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council calls on anyone who has information on the attack to contact the RCMP.

“This attack shocked our communities,” said Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Maureen Luggi. “These violent attacks are against our values. They not only left a great deal of property damage, but also has created a local environmental crisis due to the industrial fluids that were spilled due to the destruction. As Chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, I condemn these attacks.”

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council member nations have agreements with Coastal GasLink to allow the project to be constructed and operated on its territories.

“These agreements were made in good faith, and in accordance with our laws and customs. The violent attacks of Feb. 17 betray our values of peaceful deliberation to resolve disagreements,” the council said.

“This appears to have been a highly organized operation carried out by violent and dangerous criminals with no respect for the environment or the safety of the workers and law enforcement personnel. These protesters do not represent the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council or its member nations. We also call on anyone supporting these protesters to withdraw financial or other support they may be providing.”

— with files from Castanet, The Canadian Press