Coastal GasLink is building 14 construction camps to house workers along the route of its pipeline. (CGL photo)

Coastal GasLink is building 14 construction camps to house workers along the route of its pipeline. (CGL photo)

Coastal GasLink prepares sites of construction work camps

Unist'ot'en condemn 14 'man camps' housing 500-800 workers as threatening safety of women and children

  • Feb. 14, 2019 12:00 a.m.

Coastal GasLink is going ahead with site preparation for construction camps along the route of its pipeline from the natural gas fields near Fort St. John to the port at Kitimat, including one approximately 17 kilometres from the site of the anti-pipeline Unist’ot’en (Dark House) Healing Centre camp at the Morice River bridge south of Houston.

According to the company’s plans, there will be 14 of these camps along the route, each accommodating between 500 and 800 workers at the height of construction and responsible for construction of approximately 50 to 100 km of pipeline.

A project update on Feb. 5 noted that the company would be installing 10 temporary modular housing units at the Morice River site, which it has dubbed Huckleberry Camp. These units and more that will be added over the coming weeks will accommodate workers preparing the site and access roads for camp construction.

Suzanne Wilton, a CGL spokesperson, said the Huckleberry camp is slated for construction in July 2020. There are nine camps planned for 2019, with the remainder scheduled in 2020. The company expects construction of the actual pipeline will also begin in 2020.

With the beginning of site preparation, the Unist’ot’en issued a condemnation of what the group is calling “man camps” and the pipeline project in general.

“We, the Unist’ot’en (Dark House), do not give our free, prior, and informed consent for Coastal GasLink or any company to establish an industrial work camp on our territories,” the statement said.

“They create the social conditions for an increase of violence against Indigenous women and children. The culture and work conditions of “man camps” exacerbate isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, misogyny, hyper-masculinity, and racism among the men living there.”

The company countered those assertions in a press release Thursday.

“We have engaged with Indigenous and local communities to address various alcohol-related concerns and will continue to work with them throughout construction, Coastal GasLink has a zero-tolerance approach to the possession and use of illegal drugs or unacceptable behavior resulting from alcohol or drug consumption. Based on local feedback, our Site 9A workforce accommodation, south of Houston, will not have alcohol on site.”

The Unist’ot’en cite RCMP statistics as justification for their concerns.

“The Fort St. James area has experienced a 38 per cent increase in RCMP-reported sexual assaults in one industrial project’s first year,” the statement read.

The Interior News has contacted the RCMP for verification of this claim and whether there is evidence it is attributable to the presence of construction camps and has reached out to the Unist’ot’en for clarification on the referenced project.

There was a report titled ‘Indigenous communities and industrial camps’ prepared by The Firelight Group with Lake babine Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en that uses this statistic and says it is from local RCMP, without naming the project. The February 2017 report lists negative and positive impacts of industrial camps. It was funded by the then-named Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

The Unist’oten also reference James Anaya, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

“Indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into Indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.”

Anaya said that in a statement to the International Expert Group Meeting on the theme “Sexual health and reproductive rights” Jan. 15, 2014 in New York City before he made his first visit to Canada.

In his July 2014 report “The Situation of Indigenous People in Canada,” he made no reference to similar concerns here.

He did, however, say in his recommendations that, “resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with and the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples concerned,” and that “Resource development projects, where they occur, should be fully consistent with aboriginal and treaty rights, and should in no case be prejudicial to unsettled claims.”

Coastal GasLink maintains it has done its due diligence in that regard, and the Province agrees having fully permitted the project.

“We understand the interest in ensuring that Indigenous and local communities benefit from construction activities and are not negatively affected by construction camps — we share that interest,” the CGL camp plan states.

The camps are intended to be fully self-sufficient with catering, health care and even entertainment opportunities. That, combined with round-the-clock security and a six-day on, one-day off work rotation, the company says, will minimize the impact of an influx of workers on local communities.

“As part of our commitment to ensuring First Nations participation, contracts were awarded to northern Indigenous businesses who partnered with camp providers for each site,” the Feb. 14 press release said. “We are proud to be working with First Nations communities and businesses to provide workforce accommodation and security services at these accommodation sites.”

The Unist’ot’en, however, continue to take a hard line.

“We, the Unist’ot’en (Dark House), know that violence on our lands and violence on our women are connected,” the statement concludes. “We do not consent to Coastal GasLink’s violence destroying our lands, and we do not consent to Coastal GasLink’s ‘man camp’ and its potential to violate our women.”

Smithers Interior News