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Coastal GasLink, contractor deny liability for alleged sexual assault at pipeline work camp

Coastal GasLink says it is not liable for an alleged sexual assault at a work camp in northern B.C., and instead says any negligence is the fault of Civeo Premium Services, a pipeline contractor which also denies responsibility.

The two companies also disagree about who employed the person alleged to have committed the sexual assault. 

The denials from both companies come in written responses filed in B.C. Supreme Court to a lawsuit from a 30-year old woman who CBC News is identifying by her initials.

In her lawsuit, J.M. said she suffered “sexual battery” by an “agent” of Coastal GasLink who embraced her at work without her consent and “fondled, then forcibly grabbed” her buttocks, and “inappropriately” commented on her body.

The alleged incident took place in J.M.’s private office in a work camp about 100 kilometres from Houston, B.C., west of Prince George, in December 2021, where she was employed as an executive chef for Coastal GasLink crews constructing a pipeline. 

The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline will carry natural gas 670 kilometres from northeastern B.C. to a $40-billion LNG export project in Kitimat.

J.M. claims Coastal GasLink and Civeo failed to “screen for suitability [their] agents, employees and guests, especially in light of the remote nature of the work site and prevalence of sexual violence at such remote work sites” and is suing both companies for negligence and damages.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

CGL says work camp contractor responsible for safety

In separate written responses filed to the B.C. Supreme Court this month, both Coastal GasLink and Civeo ask that the case be dismissed.

Civeo stated that while J.M. had reported an alleged incident of sexual assault and asked for a video camera to be installed in her office, she did not initially provide the name of her alleged assailant. 

“Civeo was therefore … unable to investigate further,” according to the court filing.

When J.M. did later name her alleged assailant, the contractor said it investigated “all allegations” and implemented “appropriate discipline … if inappropriate conduct was found.”

However, Civeo also said it’s not liable for the actions of the alleged assailant because they were an employee of Coastal GasLink and “not under the control or direction of Civeo.”

In its filing, Coastal GasLink denies the alleged assailant worked for its company, and said Civeo waited four months before informing Coastal GasLink of the alleged incident. 

Coastal GasLink states Civeo was solely responsible for the safety and management of the pipeline work camps, and for enforcing anti-harassment policies and the camps’ code of conduct.

Wet’suwet’en blockades ‘unexpected’, says CGL

Coastal GasLink also denied responsibility for failing to notify J.M. and other workers of an “imminent protester’s blockade” in November 2021, which left employees in the camp cut off from supplies for several days.

The incident occurred when the Gidimt’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation told Coastal GasLink it would enforce an “eviction” of pipeline workers from its traditional territories.

coastal gaslink contractor deny liability for alleged sexual assault at pipeline work camp
Wet’suwet’en members and supporters issued an enforcement notice for the ‘eviction’ of Coastal GasLink from their territories in November 2021. Soon after, blockades went up that blocked access to Coastal GasLink’s work camps in the area. (Layla Staats)

Eight hours later, protesters built blockades on the road to pipeline camps housing 500 workers.

J.M.’s lawsuit accuses the companies of creating unhygienic and unsafe working conditions by restricting water and supplies during the blockade.

Civeo said that water rationing was necessary “given uncertainty about the duration of the blockades.”

coastal gaslink contractor deny liability for alleged sexual assault at pipeline work camp 1
A Wet’suwet’en checkpoint at a bridge leading to the Unist’ot’en camp, near a Coastal GasLink work camp on a remote road near Houston, B.C. in January 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Coastal GasLink said it could not provide advance warning because the blockades were “unexpected” and caused by “third parties” without “meaningful advance notice”,  that it was Civeo’s responsibility to manage camp supplies, and that Civeo should have informed stranded workers that they could leave at any time by helicopter. 

All the incidents alleged in the lawsuit took place on land claimed as traditional territory by several Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the site of ongoing pipeline protests against Coastal GasLink.

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