Will Canada respond with violence to the Wet’suwet’en road blockade on their territory?
On Sunday November 14, Wet’suwet’en land defenders issued this evacuation order to Coastal GasLink workers on their territory and later blocked the Morice River Forest Service Road, a main access road onto their lands.
They have stated that this action was taken to protect the Wedzin Kwa headwaters and in accordance with Wet’suwet’en laws that predate Canada as well as the Supreme Court of Canada ruling recognizing their title to these lands.
Mike Farnworth, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General in the province of British Columbia, has responded by criminalizing them. In this statement, he says: “The right to protest does not extend to criminal actions.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) fall under the responsibility of federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino. When the RCMP are contracted to do policing in British Columbia they also fall under the responsibility of Farnworth.
While Farnworth has stated he does direct “police operations”, he did authorize on January 27, 2020, the “internal redeployment of resources within the Provincial Police Services” on Wet’suwet’en lands in order to “maintain law and order.”
Days later, on February 6, 2020, a militarized raid began that over a five-day period resulted in the arrest of 22 land defenders.
The Tyee has reported: “More than 40 officers arrived at the Gidimt’en camp … in two helicopters and a dozen police vehicles… People at the Gidimt’en camp said the RCMP force included tactical squad officers armed with rifles.”
The CBC has reported: “The province [of British Columbia] did not respond to a question about whether a similar authorization [from Minister Farnworth] was made with respect to the first enforcement operation.”
After that raid, The Guardian reported: “Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline.”
There are concerns about a third militarized raid against the Wet’suwet’en peoples.
On Sunday, Dawn Roberts of the RCMP said: “We have had and will continue to have a police presence in the area. The primary responsibility of those officers has been to conduct roving patrols and respond to any complaints, but there has [sic] been no indications that I’m aware of that we were doing any enforcement today.”
And yet earlier that day, the Gidimt’en Checkpoint tweeted: “3 RCMP have broken the conditions of the evacuation and are responding to Gidimt’en frontline.” They also tweeted: “Reports now they are putting up a drone.”
Farnworth’s statement concludes: “We remain committed to a peaceful resolution.” We hope this means he will not authorize an “internal redeployment of resources” allowing another RCMP action against Wet’suwet’en land defenders.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called on the state (Canada and British Columbia) to halt construction on the pipeline, seek free, prior and informed consent in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and remove the RCMP from Wet’suwet’en lands.
In another context, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has commented that blockades fit within the right to protest and that an “absolute prohibition of any blockade” can “distort the exceptional participation” of militarized force and “constitute a disproportionate restriction to freedom of expression, demonstration and assembly.”
The international community is watching with concern that the Canadian state will again act with violence and enforce a megaproject that lacks consent at gunpoint.
Gidimt’en land defenders continue to call for people to come to camp. In response, Peace Brigades International-Canada will be attempting to visit the territory this week and document the situation at the blockade.