What might provincial legislation that protects Indigenous land defenders look like?
Indigenous land defence struggles on unceded and Treaty lands in Canada can face police repression, criminalization and judicialization, settler vigilantism, dangerous misrepresentations in the media, gendered threats and violence, and other risks.
A key public policy consideration should be how to guarantee that the rights of defenders are protected and that they can carry out their activism safely.
While there are various international declarations that seek to protect defenders, and several national guidelines focused on defenders in other countries, there may not be existing legislation or guidelines at the provincial level in Canada.
A recent report by Global Witness highlights that some of the measures that governments should take to reduce the risks faced by defenders include:
1- Resolve outstanding land claims and formally secure, including through legal means, the land rights of communities and indigenous peoples;
2- Legally legitimize the role of land and environmental defenders and publicly condemn any threats against them, with specific attention to gender-based violence and attacks;
3- Ensure national policies safeguard the rights of defenders and protesters to free assembly and speech, as well as potential recourse to civil disobedience.
Some of the existing resources that could potentially be used to help inform and shape provincial legislation in this country include:
1- Voices at Risk: Canada’s Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders (Global Affairs Canada)
2- Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (United Nations)
Other sources that could be drawn on to develop legislation include: Swiss Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders; Action Plan for Human Rights Defenders (the Netherlands); EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders; Protecting and Supporting Human Rights Defenders (Finland); UK Support for Human Rights Defenders; and other such guidelines and initiatives in countries including France, Germany and Ireland.
Peace Brigades International (PBI) accompanies Indigenous land defenders in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
We have noted: “Defenders of land rights, culture and natural resources can find themselves facing powerful interests and brutal opposition. Some have approached PBI for protection after they have been attacked or their colleagues assassinated. Many others have been subjected to criminal prosecutions based on spurious charges.”
As we see land defence struggles in this country, including notably by the Secwepemc, Wet’suwet’en, Sipekne’katik, and Haudenosaunee, Peace Brigades International-Canada will be reaching out to defenders, communities and allies on the advisability, potential and need for legislative protection here.
Photo by Rainforest Action Network.