Company behind Minnesota’s harmful pipeline project is allegedly paying cops to harass Native women

According to the Stop Line 3 campaign, Line 3 is a pipeline expansion project that will bring almost one million barrels of tar sands per day from Canada across Minnesota to Wisconsin. “All pipelines spill. Line 3 isn’t about safe transportation of a necessary product, it’s about expansion of a dying tar sands industry,” the campaign argued.

Since the project’s announcement in 2014, activists including the Ojibwe Water Protectors, have been calling for officials to halt the project because not only does it violate Indigenous treaty rights but it poses a huge risk of pollution to the environment.

Construction began on Dec. 1, 2020, and was said to be 50% completed by March 11, according to an announcement by Enbridge. Segments in Canada, North Dakota, and Wisconsin were completed prior to this announcement. Since then protests have been occurring almost daily with activists and advocates, mainly those who identify as women, facing arrests. More than 130 people have been arrested in connection to Line 3 protests, CNN reported. Additionally, over a dozen were arrested on March 25 alone.

Those not arrested have been facing intimidation and harassment at the hands of the police, who are also allegedly tracking protesters. This raises concerns of the influence Enbridge has on the local police department, as invoices indicate the company has been paying for the department’s salaries.

According to invoices obtained by HEATED, Minnesota law enforcement officials and Enbridge began their relationship last year when the company had its permit for Line 3 approved. According to HEATED, the permit noted that Enbridge must pay police for any pipeline-related public safety activity, in efforts to avoid putting undue burden on local taxpayers.

As a result, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department is currently seeking at least  $352,576.22 in reimbursement from Enbridge for hours and equipment related to “Line 3 Project Security.”

According to the invoices, the request spans from November 28 to February 19. While most of it is related to physical security hours worked, some of it accounts for equipment including a Live Scan Fingerprint System, which allows officers to quickly confirm the identity of the people they arrest.

Prior to January, less officers were present at the site. Between January to February 19, 43 officers were logged to have been patrolling the pipeline project to prevent disruption, HEATED reported. Records, compiled by HEATED, indicate that if each officer worked full-time, between January to February, the average Cass County officer spent at least 17% of their regular working day on Line 3 “Safety Patrol,” in addition to about 12 overtime hours a week.

What’s worse is that Enbridge is not only paying Cass County officials, the Canadian company has even tapped into other counties for its “safety patrol.” At this time it is unclear how many counties and how much influence Enbridge has over the local police departments, in addition to what HEATED has found.

While it is normal for police officials to be present at certain projects to protect the construction, the actions these officials are taking under the the guise of “safety patrol” have been troubling. Activists are living in fear due to harassment and intimidation at the hands of the police, especially women.

Even prominent actress and activist Jane Fonda expressed concerns over police patrol after visiting the project site. “We pulled over to wait for them, it took a long time to process their identification, and they ended up not being ticketed,” she told HEATED. “Then we drove 12 miles to the press conference and the police car followed us the whole way.”

This fear is not new and restricted to Fonda’s experience. According to tribal attorney and activist Tara Houska, anyone working to oppose the Line 3 project has been followed by cops while driving alone. While many have been verbally intimidated, some have reported violence and brutality. “The police presence has been strong,” Houska told HEATED.“We’ve seen groups of squad cars 20-plus strong from different counties guarding the line. Last week a car followed us for two hours straight.”

In March Houska also told CNN that while some advocates were physically arrested at construction sites, police also watched social media feeds to identify others and sent a summons in the mail. “They seem to think that it’s going to deter us from protecting the land. They are fundamentally missing the point of what water protectors are doing, which is willing to put ourselves, our freedom, our bodies, our personal comfort on the line for something greater than ourselves,” Houska said.

Women have been not only wrestled to the ground by male officers but held overnight in jail cells meant for lesser capacity, making social distancing impossible. According to HEATED, even female journalists have faced abuse by cops with some being removed from projects with editors fearing for their safety. “I don’t feel safe,” one woman told HEATED. “I walk by the officers in the grocery story every day knowing they’re preparing to beat me up—and doing it with the help of Enbridge.”

Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline will not only violate treaties protecting Indigenous land and water but endangers lakes, rivers, and wild rice with the barrels of tar sand oils it hopes to transfer. Enbridge knows what risks its project brings—we cannot stay silent as it works to pay off law enforcement officials and intimidates those who stand up against its harmful pipeline.

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