Narwhal Lawsuit

An update on our RCMP lawsuit — and what’s happening with Coastal GasLink

In our latest newsletter, we share news of the RCMP’s response to our suit over the wrongful arrest of photojournalist Amber Bracken. Plus, northwest B.C. reporter Matt Simmons chats about his latest investigation into the pipeline project

Before giving you a behind-the-scenes look at The Narwhal’s latest investigative reporting, we have an update to share with our readers.

Back in February, The Narwhal launched a lawsuit against the RCMP for wrongfully arresting photojournalist Amber Bracken on Wet’suwet’en territory — and to take a stand for press freedom in Canada.

The RCMP has now responded to our lawsuit — suggesting Bracken was not engaged in legitimate journalism when she was covering the Wet’suwet’en conflict for The Narwhal in November 2021.

This response indicates freedom of the press is severely endangered in Canada. If police officers are allowed to be the arbiters of who is considered a journalist, the health of our democracy hangs in the balance. The right to a free press is one held not just by the media, but by every person in this country. The Narwhal remains committed to establishing meaningful consequences for police when they interfere with the constitutional rights of journalists covering events in injunction zones, and we will see the RCMP in court in October 2024. 

Between now and then, we’ll be busy preparing our case for trial. Be sure to go here for an overview of what’s at stake.

Now, as promised, onto this week’s Narwhal reporting: a look into the latest goings-on from Wet’suwet’en territory and beyond …

Aerial shot of a section of the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction site

Forty inspection reports.

That’s what northwest B.C. reporter Matt Simmons has been poring over in the last few weeks, trying to figure out exactly why the BC Energy Regulator was seemingly lenient with TC Energy, the company building the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The 670-kilometre project crosses more than 700 streams, creeks and rivers home to numerous fish species. Over the span of 40 inspections — a fraction of the more than 500 conducted to date — the energy regulator noted more than 80 potential environmental infractions. 

But the conclusions of those reports, which Matt has slowly gathered through freedom of information requests over months, revealed a troubling pattern: the regulator’s compliance and enforcement officers only flagged five as violations of provincial regulations

And the total from the 12 times it has fined the project so far? Just $2,760.

“Those numbers are really conservative — it’s in stark contrast to the BC Environmental Assessment Office’s enforcement,” Matt told me, pointing to financial penalties that surpassed $800,000 following fewer than 100 inspections on the same pipeline.

In one instance Matt found in the BC Energy Regulator’s reports, pipeline workers didn’t use equipment they already had to protect a stream. In another, inadequately trained workers operated heavy machinery directly in flowing water without any protective measures or supervision. Neither of the alleged incidents led to a warning or an order.

It’s not that the regulator doesn’t have the means to protect the environment — it was given sweeping powers over a suite of provincial laws designed to do so. Officials from the regulator told Matt issuing the dozen tickets was “the most appropriate response.”

The experts Matt talked to pointed to the industry-funded regulator’s origin story: it was created as an agency to fast-track oil and gas activity in the province. “They are the boots on the ground, paid for by industry,” a former legislative advisor told him.

Matt’s review of the reports also brought another detail to light: 75 per cent of inspections were conducted with a Coastal GasLink contractor present, and in some cases, pipeline workers were informed of the inspection ahead of time.

As the construction forges on, Matt will continue to report on its impacts on the sensitive ecosystems surrounding the pipeline. Until then, go read his months-long investigation here

Take care and read the fine print,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor

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