Criminalization of land defenders continues as 4th anniversary of RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en territory approaches
Photo: A land defender is tackled to the ground by an RCMP officer on January 7, 2019. Photo by Jesse Winter/Star Metro.
Tomorrow, January 7, marks the 4th anniversary of the 2019 raid by the RCMP against Wet’suwet’en land defenders resisting the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline being built on their territory without free, prior and informed consent.
The Tyee has reported: “By mid-morning on Jan. 7, the police had arrived. Beyond the barricade, at least two-dozen RCMP and industry vehicles lined the road. Two snipers were in place. Amidst screaming and the sound of helicopters circling overhead, [Wet’suwet’en land defender Molly] Wickham [also known as Sleydo’] leaned her back against the gate and sank to the ground. She thought she might throw up.”
Photo: Molly Wickham, left, sings a traditional song in protest as the RCMP prepares to breach a checkpoint on Gidimt’en territory. Photo by Jesse Winter/Star Vancouver.
One week after that raid, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs, now the Chief of the Ottawa Police Service, promised at a media conference a review of the action.
He said: “As with any major operation, we will be conducting an after action review, that will produce recommendations to address any issues or concerns.”
In response to a follow-up question from a reporter, Stubbs said: “Certainly, in terms of the actual document being available versus us doing perhaps a press release or press conference to discuss some of the results … that’s yet to be determined.”
Video: Stubbs at media conference, January 14, 2019.
Stubbs also stated at that media conference: “Initially, the primary role of those officers deployed over the barricade was to make the situation safe so the gate could be safely removed by the company, as per the order.”
Stubbs did not reveal at that time that RCMP was prepared to use lethal force against Wet’suwet’en land defenders and apprehend their children.
The Guardian later reported: “Notes from a strategy session for a militarized raid on ancestral lands of the Wet’suwet’en nation show that commanders of Canada’s national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), argued that ‘lethal overwatch is req’d’ – a term for deploying an officer who is prepared to use lethal force.”
“The RCMP commanders also instructed officers to ‘use as much violence toward the gate as you want’ ahead of the operation to remove a roadblock which had been erected by Wet’suwet’en people to control access to their territories and stop construction of the proposed 670km (416-mile) Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL).”
The article also notes: “The RCMP were prepared to arrest children and grandparents: ‘No exception, everyone will be arrested in the injunction area,’ a document reads. Another makes reference to possible child apprehension by social services – a troubling disclosure given the violent history of residential schooling in Canada and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children currently in the child welfare system.”
What were the findings of the “after action review” promised by Stubbs on January 14, 2019? If conducted, it does not appear to be publicly available.
But The Guardian article, published on December 20, 2019, almost a year after the raid, reports: “An RCMP spokesperson declined to comment on the specific content of the documents [that say “lethal overwatch is req’d”, to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” and “No exception, everyone will be arrested in the injunction area”].”
That first raid on January 7, 2019, was also followed by raids on February 6-10, 2020, and November 18-19, 2021 (that included the arrest of two journalists), and constant RCMP surveillance of Wet’suwet’en territory.
Photo: RCMP assistant commissioner Eric Stubbs, left, and deputy commissioner Jennifer Strachan at media conference about enforcement actions, February 5, 2020.
These actions happened despite the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) passing a resolution on December 13, 2019, calling on the RCMP to leave Wet’suwet’en territory and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) writing Stubbs on February 6, 2020, highlighting concerns about Wet’suwet’en rights.
Following his appointment as the Chief of the Ottawa Police Service in October 2022, Stubbs commented: “I enjoy working with the Indigenous communities, I’ve done it a lot and I’ll continue to do so in Ottawa.”
But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, says: “He would go through the motions of listening … and went ahead and authorized the brutal actions that were undertaken. And in my view, in his attitude was arrogant.”
In its construction update posted on December 21, 2022, Coastal GasLink notes that construction of the pipeline continues near the Gidimt’en village.
Meanwhile, CBC has reported 13 land defenders face criminal contempt proceedings in relation to the RCMP arrests on November 18-19, 2021.
One of those facing criminal charges is Wet’suwet’en land defender Sleydo’.
On November 23, 2021, after four days in custody in a provincial jail in Prince George, she stated: “C-IRG and the RCMP need to be abolished. Anybody who is not into prison abolition should be after this experience that we’ve had.”
Video of RCMP officers smashing down a door and arresting Sleydo’ and others at gunpoint on November 19, 2021.
We continue to follow this situation with concern.