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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

STEWART -- It now appears that two branches of the BC government are being impelled toward some type of collision that would create an appearance of confusion benefiting only those seeking to thwart the pipeline project

A British Columbia civil servant has a second job – as a director at the Unist'ot'en camp originally created to block any pipeline that might be planned for a North West corridor. Her government employer is monitoring the situation, just weeks after $400,000 in public funding was announced for the camp. Veteran journalist Stewart Muir assembled a number of facts about the situation.


An agency of the British Columbia government has issued a news release attempting to explain its financial support for a pipeline protest camp where one of its current employees is also now employed.

The Unist'ot'en site in a remote location near Smithers is the eye of the storm in a heavily publicized dispute involving contested claims about which members of the Wet’suwet'en Nation have the right to negotiate with governments and industry. 

Although 20 First Nations are supportive of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline, a number of individuals do not support it, claiming their hereditary authority supersedes that of ordinary Wet’suwet'en members.

On Feb. 8, after protesters broadcast a video of an employee of the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) taking part in the burning of a court injunction, the organization issued a news release stating: “The FNHA is aware of a staff member who is currently on unpaid leave with a potential conflict of interest around this project. The staff member in question has completed all necessary conflict of interest documentation and has met all of the requirements."

The staff member in question is Karla Tait, a niece of Huson who is a psychologist by education. Tait is described as the Unist’ot'en Healing Centre's Director of Clinical Service. 

Recently, after years of support by a variety of non-government environmental foundations and pressure groups, Unist'ot'en Healing Centre received a $400,000 government grant from the First Nations Health Authority to continue to run land-based trauma and addictions treatment programming.

The FNHA’s reference to a conflict of interest concerns appears to arise from Tait being employed by both organizations.

It’s not clear why the FNHA donated the sum to a camp of which Huson has stated:

We decided to start a camp right directly in the path of Enbridge and Pacific Trails pipelines route. We started by putting up a log cabin right in the GPS route, and from there we decided we wanted to build a permanent camp. After we put the cabin here in the GPS route of Enbridge and Pacific Trails, they moved their route upstream about a kilometre, kilometre and a half.

We were planning to build a pithouse anyways but we decided to put the pithouse in the GPS route of PTP, as well as the permaculture garden to block them.”

This is the camp that has grown over time into a facility described this way in a Smithers newspaper article:

The Unist’ot’en Healing Centre was built with the assistance of settler supporters working hand in hand with us to fund and construct the infrastructure that allows us to provide self-determined culturally rooted, land-based healing programming by, and for, Indigenous Peoples,' said Clinical Director of Unist’ot’en Healing Centre and Unist’ot’en House Member Karla Tait, Ph.D.”

It's not clear whether at the time of that statement reported last month Tait was or was not on leave from her active duties as a civil servant. 

Now that it has the apparent commitment of public funds, Unist’ot’en camp on Jan. 21 formally requested the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) continue to withhold final permits for construction of Coastal GasLink’s (CGL) 670-kilometre pipeline. Stated the group in a news report: “CGL failed to include any mention of the Unist’ot’en Healing Center, the most significant economic, social and health-related institution within the study boundary, in their report.”

In an online report Jan. 22, the National Observer stated: "The healing centre is ‘the fruition of decades of planning and de-colonizing work,' Dr. Tait said in the statement. The community and its supporters have poured more than $2 million into the construction of the centre, and the institution recently received a $400,000 grant from the First Nations Health Authority to continue to run land-based trauma and addictions treatment programming."

At this point there is no clear evidence showing that the $400,000 has actually been paid out by Tait's main employer, the Province of British Columbia, to her second employer, the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre. Nor is it clear who specifically signed off on the payment and whether the potential conflict of interest cited by the FNHA relates in any way to financial governance.

It appears the legal strategy now being employed by the protest camp organizers is to claim, retroactive to the time the natural gas pipeline was approved, the existence of what is now a publicly supported site delivering some type of health-related services. The legal strategy appears to be to try to pit ministries within the B.C. government against each other in the apparent hopes that the conflict will get into the courts, slowing the project.

There is no known published report on what the healing centre does or who it serves, nor the medical protocols it follows.

The news release states that FNHA management will continue to monitor the situation and to follow up "as appropriate".

On Saturday, Feb. 8 a video was published in social media showing Huson, Tait and others barricading a public logging bridge over Morice River in defiance of a court injunction, while Huson burns what was claimed to be the court injunction currently being enforced.

After I pointed out Tait's dual affiliation, and the incongruity of a civil servant appearing to participate in the destruction of a court order, the FNHA responded by issuing its news release.

According to its Jan. 21 report, the Interior News also reached out to the Province’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy for comment, since the EAO falls into its domain.

"In an emailed response the ministry confirmed that the report in question was submitted to the EAO by CGL as a requirement under their EAC and that meeting EAO requirements is required for CGL to proceed with construction. 'The EAO is undertaking a review of the report and whether it meets the requirements of condition 1 of the CGL project’s EAC over the next several weeks. That review process includes feedback from other parties, including the Wet’suwet’en.'"

It's not known whether the court that issued the injunction will have a viewpoint on the spectacle of a civil servant participating in the destruction of the document.

If the legal strategy that has been created by the long-running Unist’ot’en effort is successful, it now appears that two branches of the B.C. government are being impelled toward some type of collision that would create an appearance of confusion benefiting only those seeking to thwart the pipeline project. With just one supporting Go Fund Me group opposing the CGL pipeline currently claiming as much as $10,000 a day in donations toward an anti-pipeline legal strategy, the situation appears to be far from over.

Without the pipeline, Canada's largest-ever infrastructure project, LNG Canada located in Kitimat, will not be able to deliver products to its consortium members in Asia who are desperate to have sources of lower-carbon fuel to support their climate change strategies.

Members of the Wet’suwet'en Nation who support the project have recently gone on the record to explain their positions. 

Here are two interviews recently taped in Prince George:

Clement Mitchell ... click here

Philip Tait ... click here

Meanwhile, a seemingly spontaneous eruption of protests in south west B.C. and various Canadian locations as well as some international cities is being employed to create pressure on provincial and federal politicians. Will they react by beginning to question the legitimacy of government and judicial decisions, as they are being asked to by street protesters?

At this point it is far from clear that this classic pressure tactic is gaining traction, and in fact it may instead be simply annoying the general public.

A Facebook post by Global BC on a port disruption attracted over 600 comments that are almost uniformly opposed to the protest tactics.

One Facebook user, Terry Rebaudengo, may have asked what a lot of people are wondering: "Who is behind the orchestration of these protests? Shut down this mass civil disobedience." And this from resident Eira Trinder-Orme: "It's a well-known fact that if you disrupt peoples lives and curtail their source of income that you can sway public support in your direction. NOT."

Will a climate friendly project that creates immense benefits for First Nations and all residents of Canada be able to proceed in the face of such a carefully managed oppositional campaign? That's the billion-dollar question. All eyes are on those Indigenous individuals themselves.

Stewart Muir is a British Columbia journalist with four decades of experience covering public affairs in Canada and internationally. He is the founder and executive director of the Resource Works Society.


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