RCMP continue surveillance and intimidation of Wet’suwet’en land defenders
On April 29, 2022, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada to stop the construction of the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia.
The letter from Verene Shepherd, the Chair of the Committee, to Leslie E. Norton, the Ambassador of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva, highlights:
“According to the information before the Committee [received through the Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure], the Governments of Canada and of the Province of British Columbia have escalated their use of force, surveillance, and criminalization of land defenders and peaceful protesters to intimidate, remove and forcibly evict Secwepemc and Wet’suwet’en Nations from their traditional lands, in particular by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Community-Industry Response Group (CIRG), and private security firms.”
And yet two weeks later, this video shows the CIRG unit of the RCMP criminalizing Wet’suwet’en land defenders on their territory.
Questions about the injunction
In the Wet’suwet’en video, an RCMP officer reads from a script: “Since 2019 this location has been used as a base of operations for individuals committing criminal code offences and actions breaching a Supreme Court injunction. Many of those individuals have been arrested and released by the court…”
The RCMP are referring to an interlocutory (temporary) injunction granted by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in December 2019 that prohibits Wet’suwet’en land defenders from impeding Coastal GasLink workers.
Yellowhead Institute research director Shiri Pasternak has noted: “When the court refused to recognize Wet’suwet’en hereditary authority, [the land defenders] become de facto lawless and so are labelled and treated as criminals. So a spectre of danger around these supposed criminals is created by the RCMP and other actors.”
Significantly, Pasternak asks: “But how can [a provincial court] injunction override a Supreme Court [of Canada] decision [on December 11, 1997] that recognized hereditary leaders as the proper title and rights holders?”
Kate Gunn at First Peoples Law has also commented:
“The trends in injunctive relief run counter to established Canadian law. The Supreme Court has been clear that Indigenous peoples’ exclusive occupation of their ancestral lands is both part of the test for establishing Aboriginal title, and a right that flows from title. Rather than undermining the rule of law, Indigenous peoples’ efforts to prevent unwanted development on their lands should be viewed as an expression of Aboriginal title based on requirements articulated by the Supreme Court.”
Questions about breaches of bail conditions
When the RCMP arrive at the village, they also say: “We are conducting patrols to ensure criminal code offences are not being committed and that individuals with court-ordered conditions are not breaching those conditions.”
But Vancouver-based lawyer Francis Mahon tells journalist Brandi Morin: “If there hasn’t been any evidence that people who are subject to bail conditions right now for breaches with the injunction (are there), then why are the police there?”
Mahon further notes: “If the purpose (of the RCMP) is to make it a very unfriendly environment for the clan and their supporters, I’m not sure that that’s a legitimate policing purpose. We know that the clan is not just there to protest CGL. This is an effort to re-establish a village site. It’s a place of cultural and historic importance.”
And Toronto-based Mi’kmaw lawyer Pamela Palmater writes in The Lawyer’s Daily: “Far from the dangerous criminals they are portrayed as, these Indigenous peoples — mostly women — are peaceful land defenders protecting their lands and waters from irreparable environmental destruction and trying to combat the climate change crisis.”
“These land defenders are also on the ground to protect their women and girls from the racialized and sexualized violence associated with pipeline camps. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women called on Canada to have an inquiry into the relationship between murdered and missing Indigenous women and extractive, energy and large-scale projects.”
She adds: “UN CERD has good reason to be concerned about the personal safety and security of these Indigenous land defenders who are merely trying to protect their lands, waters and peoples from irreparable harm and violence.”
July 15 deadline
The letter from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) calls on Canada to provide a response to their concerns by Friday July 15.
Further reading: Legal Observer Visit to Wet’suwet’en Territory by Seb Bonet.