Land defenders criminalized opposing tar sands pipeline on Secwepemc territory

Published by Brent Patterson on

On Saturday October 19, land defenders Kanahus Manuel and Isha Jules were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for reportedly “bugging” road construction workers on unceded Secwepemc Nation territory in British Columbia, Canada.

Manuel and Jules are members of the Tiny House Warriors, a group opposed to the construction of the 890,000 barrel per day Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline. The pipeline would cross 518 kilometres of Secwepemc territory.

A Tiny House Warriors media release notes, “They had stopped to tell construction workers they had no Secwepemc consent to flag in preparation for roadwork.”

A number of concerns have been raised about the arrest and its aftermath: Manuel’s wrist was broken during the arrest, but she was not taken to a hospital until 10 hours later. They were transported 200 kilometres in the back of a police van to an RCMP detachment without access to legal counsel or medical attention.

Furthermore, they were not allowed to see a lawyer for five hours. And they were remanded in custody until the morning of Monday October 21, which is seen as irregular.

The original complaint appears to be that the land defenders were “bugging” the workers. The RCMP later said the workers complained about being “disrupted”. It now appears that Manuel and Jules have been charged with mischief and intimidation.

Manuel and Jules were released with the conditions that they not wear masks, keep the peace, and not impede pipeline workers.

The land defenders are opposed to the man camps being built on their territory to facilitate the construction of the tar sands pipeline.

As James Anaya, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has noted, “Indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.”

The Secwepemc Women’s Declaration Against Kinder Morgan Man Camps states, “The water of our lands and the water in our bodies create and sustain our nations. The colonial corporate system of resource extraction relies on the connected violence of destroying our lands and violating our bodies.”

Indigenous land defenders are at risk around the world for defending their territories and the environment from extractivist industries.

UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has stated, “I’ve been alerted to hundreds of cases of criminalization from nearly every corner of the world. These attacks — whether physical or legal — are an attempt to silence Indigenous Peoples voicing their oppositions to projects that threaten their livelihoods and cultures.”

Tauli-Corpuz has recommended measures including:

1- Creation and reinforcement of programs aimed at the protection of Indigenous Peoples;

2- Prompt and impartial investigation of all violent attacks against defenders of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and a zero-tolerance approach to any verified attacks;

3- Adaptation of legislation and policies to expressly support the protection of indigenous defenders and communities;

4- Monitoring of all large-scale development taking place on Indigenous territory.

Peace Brigades International-Canada believes that human rights defenders are essential actors in promoting environmental and social justice, highlighting the importance of respecting human rights norms in the context of large-scale economic projects.

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