(Update with arrests, comment from RCMP and journalists association)
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Canadian police arrested six people on Thursday in a remote area of northern British Columbia where indigenous protesters have blocked construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
The C$6.6 billion ($4.97 billion) pipeline, to be operated by TC Energy Corp, will move gas from northeast British Columbia to the Pacific coast, where the Royal Dutch Shell -led LNG Canada export facility is under construction.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) imposed an “exclusion zone” on Thursday near Houston, B.C., that bars access to an area where project opponents had built a barricade of felled trees and incendiary material. The zone will create an area for Coastal GasLink contractors to safely work, the RCMP said.
Early in the morning, police ordered people at the site to leave, but six refused and were arrested for obstruction, the RCMP said. One person was also charged with resisting arrest.
“Our presence may appear imposing,” British Columbia RCMP said in a statement. “In reality, a minimal amount of force was required to support the arrests or removal of individuals.”
The British Columbia Supreme Court granted an injunction in December against blockades preventing access for workers, after protests a year ago resulted in arrests.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said police began “aggressively raiding” traditional indigenous territories overnight.
“Forcing indigenous peoples off their own territory is in complete and disgusting violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples,” Phillip said.
Police said some journalists were removed from the zone for safety reasons but were not arrested.
The Canadian Association of Journalists said it had verified reports, however, that RCMP had threatened to arrest journalists.
“We remind B.C. RCMP that Canada is not a police state,” the association said on Twitter. “Police do not have the right to control what is published.”
All of the elected indigenous band councils along Coastal GasLink’s route support the project. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose it and say they, not the community’s elected officials, hold authority over traditional lands.
Some 28% of the 670-km (420-mile) route passes through Wet’suwet’en lands.
Coastal GasLink President David Pfeiffer said he was disappointed the hereditary chiefs had refused to meet with the company, and that a liaison’s efforts failed to resolve the situation.
“This is not the outcome we wanted. We have made exceptional efforts to resolve this blockade through engagement and dialogue,” Pfeiffer said.
Construction has continued along other parts of the pipeline route. ($1 = 1.3288 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba Editing by Richard Chang, Robert Birsel)