Law enforcement’s double standard on Line 3 public safety

Indigenous women rally at the Governor’s mansion, tell Walz to shut down the pipeline

On Feb. 22, a few people were seen throwing a package into an Enbridge work area in Carlton County. (Later, it was described as electronic-style devices making audible noises.) It was deemed a bomb threat, but turned out to be a false alarm. Fingers were immediately pointed at water protectors. Law enforcement’s response created a backlash against the water protectors at Camp Migizi.

The response: Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake, along with other local officials, decided to evacuate the 40 homes within a half-mile radius of the device. This was a larger evacuation zone than needed for a truck packed with a half-ton of TNT. Lake also called in the FBI. “Emergency alert” texts were sent out about an “explosive hazard” reaching people as far away as Hibbing and Duluth..

On Feb. 24, two days later, news broke that a human trafficking sting led to the arrests of seven men, including two Line 3 workers. According to one of the men arrested, he learned about the website where he could meet young girls from rumors at work. (That website turned out to be the sting.) In a media release announcing the arrests, Itasca County Attorney Matti Adam said: “What this operation tells us is that there is demand to sexually exploit young people in Northern Minnesota.”

The response: So far, not one public official has pointed a finger at Enbridge and demanded a response. This much we know: There is a “demand to sexually exploit young people in Northern Minnesota.” Where’s the text alerts — or their equivalent — warning northern Minnesota families of this threat?

Which is more dangerous, a buzzing electronic-type device or a sexual predator?

Strong, resilient women who helped organize the rally at the Governor’s mansion.

A number of Indigenous women — including survivors of assault and trafficking — organized an event at the Governor’s mansion today, demanding that Gov. Tim Walz immediately revoke Line 3 permits. The project “poses serious threat and direct imminent danger to our youth,” they said in a letter to Walz.

One of the speakers was Jessica Smith, a two-spirit member of the Boise Forte band of Chippewa. A survivor of trafficking and sexual violence, she now is doing research for the Sovereign Bodies Institute, looking at the connection between extractive industries, such as pipeline construction, and sex trafficking.

She emailed Enbridge on Feb. 8 asking for information about its safety protocols and training. She didn’t get a response. She emailed Enbridge after the arrests, asking for a statement. Again, no response.

Socially distance as part of the resistance.

Smith began digging into the backgrounds of the men arrested. She found a third man arrested also was working on Line 3, she said. It hasn’t been publicly reported yet, but a member of the man’s family had confirmed it with her directly, she said.

(Healing Minnesota Stories had heard there was a third person arrested linked to Line 3, too. I emailed Enbridge Feb. 28 asking if it were true or not. So far, no response. It seems odd, given the high visibility of the issue and the community concerns raised about Line 3, that law enforcement wouldn’t provide that information without being asked. It seems odd no public official has pressed the issue.)

Perhaps someone reading this thinks that it’s unfair to hold a company accountable for the actions of its employees during off-work hours. Not in this case. The problem of sex trafficking was named over and over during the Line 3 review. Enbridge denied it was an issue. It said it had a plan. Minnesota regulators didn’t take the problem seriously.

Smith said she spoke to a former Enbridge worker to learn more about the operation. As she relayed the conversation, workers were were only required to watch a two-hour video for their human trafficking prevention training. On the job site, many of the men made jokes about the training, she said.

Sheila Lamb, an expert on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives, spoke of her experience testifying during Line 3 hearings before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). “We warned this state,” she said.

When I testified at one point, I remember asking: What is the price you put on my daughters? What is their life worth to you? Because in my mind, my children are priceless. …

We shouldn’t have to teach our daughters the perils and the cautions that you need to take because of this situation.

Sheila Lamb

In addition to the arrests, this blog also reported on a women’s shelter in northern Minnesota seeing women harmed by pipeline workers.

The evidence is mounting. Where are the voices of the public officials who approved this project and Enbridge’s Human Trafficking Prevention Plan? Why aren’t they demanding accountability from Enbridge?

These issues need to be named and spoken to directly — in public.

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