HOUSTON, B.C. — Mounties in northern British Columbia are investigating what they say was a violent confrontation between a group of about 20 people and Coastal GasLink employees at a worksite for the natural gas pipeline.

RCMP say in a news release they were called to the area early Thursday following reports that a group of people, some allegedly armed with axes, attacked security guards and smashed vehicle windows.

Police say when they tried to reach the worksite they were stopped by a downed tree, tar-covered stumps, boards with spikes sticking out of them and fires along the forest service road.

When officers tried to work their way through the debris, police say several people threw “smoke bombs” and flaming sticks, injuring one officer.

When police made it to the site, they say they found “significant damage” to heavy machinery, other equipment and portable buildings.

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth issued a statement condemning the violence, saying the “egregious criminal activity” could have led to serious injury or loss of life.

“The police report indicates that the workers’ camp was attacked in the middle of the night by unknown assailants wielding axes,” he said.

“There is no excuse for such violence and intimidation. All workers deserve to be protected from harassment and harm.”

Coastal GasLink called the violence concerning, saying in a news release there was an attempt by some of the attackers to set a vehicle on fire while workers were inside, but no one was injured.

The company said the confrontation occurred in the same spot where a blockade protesting the pipeline’s construction was set up last year for about two months.

RCMP Chief Supt. Warren Brown said in a statement that the escalation in violence is “very troubling.”

“This was a calculated and organized violent attack that left its victims shaken and a multimillion-dollar path of destruction,” said Brown, the North District commander.

“While we respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest in Canada, we cannot tolerate this type of extreme violence and intimidation.”

The pipeline has been at the centre of several protests and arrests, as Coastal GasLink obtained an injunction against blockades and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued the company an eviction notice.

Opposition among the hereditary chiefs sparked rallies and rail blockades across Canada in 2020, while the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others nearby have agreed to the project.

Construction on the 670-kilometre pipeline began in 2019 and is expected to be completed next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2022.

The Canadian Press

News from © The Canadian Press, 2022. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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