Biden and Trudeau should commit this week to the rights of environmental human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Protest against Line 3 pipeline. Photo by Joshua Partlow/The Washington Post.

When US President Joe Biden visits Ottawa on Thursday March 23 and Friday March 24 to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a commitment to environmental human rights defenders should be on their agenda.

The Global Witness Decade of Defiance report concludes that governments should “create a safe environment for defenders and civic space to thrive.”

The report specifies on page 36:

“Existing laws that protect defenders must be enforced. Where such laws do not exist, new frameworks must be established. And efforts to use any legislation to criminalise defenders should be declared null and void. Governments must protect defender rights, including rights to free, prior and informed consent, Indigenous peoples’ rights to their livelihood and culture, the right to life, liberty and freedom of expression, and the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment.”

But when Biden addresses Parliament on Friday, it’s unlikely he will acknowledge the 800+ water protectors arrested in Minnesota for their peaceful opposition to the Line 3 pipeline built by Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.

Nor is Trudeau likely to note the 74+ people arrested on Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia for their resistance to the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline now owned in part by the New York City-based investment firm KKR & Co. Inc.

Frontline defenders are not mentioned in this White House statement about the upcoming visit that notes “taking bold action to combat climate change” without referencing the crucial role environmental defenders play in addressing this crisis.

Line 3 tar sands pipeline

In November 2016, Trudeau approved the 760,000 barrel per day Line 3 tar sands pipeline from Alberta to Wisconsin.

Tara Houska of the Giniw Collective has highlighted: “Rubber-bullet welts spread purple down my arms and back, courtesy of Minnesota police, who have reportedly billed nearly $2 million in security-related costs to a fund set up by Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge.”

She has also noted: “Enbridge is dumping millions of dollars to incentivize and encourage police officers to repress, suppress and surveil, harass Indigenous people and our allies that are helping us try to stop this pipeline from happening in our treaty territory.”

More than 800 water protectors were arrested since construction of the pipeline began in Minnesota in December 2020

Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline

Meanwhile, the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline continues to be built on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia without consent.

In December 2019, a TC Energy media release stated: “TC Energy Corporation … announced today that it has entered into an agreement to sell a 65 per cent equity interest in the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project … to KKR and Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) on behalf of certain AIMCo clients.”

The following year, The Narwhal reported: “KKR is an American private equity firm and one of the largest in the world with assets of US$207 billion. Its Coastal GasLink purchase was made in partnership with South Korea’s state-run National Pension Service — the third-largest pension in the world with over US$600 billion in assets.”

More than 74 people, including land defenders, allies and journalists, have been arrested since the first RCMP Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) raid on Wet’suwet’en territory in January 2019. Three letters from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calling for construction of the pipeline to stop and the RCMP to leave the territory have gone unheeded.

Mainstream media coverage

The pre-visit coverage by CTV News, the Canadian Press and CBC News has highlighted issues such as the modernization of NORAD (that includes Canada’s $76 billion purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 warplanes) and the mining of critical minerals (needed for military production including 920 pounds of rare-earth minerals for each F-35 produced) without also noting the historic displacement of Indigenous peoples for military bases or the Indigenous communities that will seek to protect their lands and waters from mining.

Chief Wayne Moonias of the Neskantaga First Nation has stated: “There is going to be opposition [to mining in the Ring of Fire], if this continues the way it is and the [Ontario premier Doug] Ford government or any future government doesn’t recognize the rights of our people, it’s going to be a strong stance.”

We will be watching this visit with these concerns in mind.

Photo: Biden visits Ottawa, December 2016. Photo by Justin Tang/Canadian Press.

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