UN Special Rapporteurs call on Mélanie Joly to answer concerns about criminalization of Wet’suwet’en land defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: RCMP C-IRG raid on Wet’suwet’en territory, November 2021. Photo by Dan Loan.

United Nations Special Rapporteurs – including David R. Boyd, Mary Lawlor and José Francisco Cali Tzay – have written Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly to express their concern about the criminalization of Wet’suwet’en land defenders resisting the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline.

Excerpts from their 21-page letter include:

We would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning serious risks posed to Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the context of oil and gas projects in British Columbia, Canada.

Of particular concern are allegations of ongoing violations and abuses against Wet’suwet’en Indigenous Peoples and communities related to the development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, as well as the human rights violations of land rights defenders peacefully demonstrating against the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline under construction that was approved in 2018 without the consent of the impacted Indigenous Peoples represented by the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.

The use of injunctions and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) exclusion zones around CGL worksites have led to the criminalization of indigenous opposition to the pipeline. In Wet’suwet’en territory, injunctions are allegedly being used by public and private corporations to obtain police control over indigenous territory, effectively removing Indigenous Peoples from their homelands to make way for pipeline construction and criminalising Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership.

Reportedly, the CGL obtained a series of injunctions against the Wet’suwet’en people in 2018 and 2019. Despite the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD) decision urging Canada to cease forced evictions of Wet’suwet’en people from their lands, in early February 2020, the RCMP conducted a series of raids on Wet’suwet’en encampments, deploying over 100 tactical officers armed with semi-automatic rifles and police dogs. Unarmed Wet’suwet’en land rights defenders and peaceful supporters were forcibly removed from the territory and jailed. During the raid, the RCMP created an “exclusion zone” 17 kms away from the injunction area, blocking public access. Hereditary Chiefs, journalists, and a Member of Parliament were prohibited from entering the area to witness the arrests, while non-indigenous people were allowed to pass through the blockade without showing identification.

In September 2021, the RCMP and the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) established a new police checkpoint and exclusion zone within Wet’suwet’en territory. It is alleged that officers have continued to raid Wet’suwet’en encampments, dumping drinking water and violating COVID safety measures by not wearing masks or observing safe social distancing practices.

Video: RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en territory, November 2021.

The Special Rapporteurs then list 13 areas of concern with requests, such as: “Please provide information on efforts to address the vulnerability of indigenous women to violence from work camps and to reprisal due to their significant role as land defenders, and any measures taken to prevent such occurrences and attempts made to provide essential resources and services for indigenous women.”

The letter dated January 13 highlights: “We would appreciate receiving a response within 60 days. Past this delay, this communication and any response received from your Excellency’s Government will be made public via the communications reporting website. They will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.”

60 days from the date of the letter would be about March 13, yesterday.

We continue to follow this with concern.

At the United Nations in Geneva

On September 28, 2022, Kim-Mai Vu of Peace Brigades International presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during the Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

She stated: “The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called on Canada to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory. Canada ratified this International Convention in 1970 and said in 2016 that it supported the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, however, the construction of this gas pipeline without consent continues as does the criminalization of land defenders.”

The video of this presentation (made in Spanish, with English translation) can be seen here (starting at 28:55).

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