Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel acquitted as she defends her territory from Trans Mountain pipeline project

Published by Brent Patterson on

On June 5, Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel was acquitted of “breach of condition” charges related to her opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion (TMX) pipeline project being built on her territory in northern British Columbia.

In this video, Manuel notes that she has been criminalized for upholding Secwepemc law and asserting the right to free, prior and informed consent.

Trans Mountain security officer Marty Cheliak, a former RCMP officer, had testified in court that Manuel breached her bail conditions during the period of August 31, 2021, and September 3, 2021, when she allegedly confronted pipeline workers on her territory.

At the time of this alleged offence, she was on bail charged with stealing a lock from a pumping station on her territory in September 2019.

In May 2021, Manuel was found guilty on one charge of theft. Then in October of that year, she given a conditional discharge and placed on a 12-month probation order. She has commented: “I was found guilty of ‘theft’ for a supposed padlock from the gate of the Trans Mountain pump station, with no physical evidence, witness or video footage.”

UN Committee calls on Canada to withdraw RCMP

Three years ago, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada “to immediately cease construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project and cancel all permits, until free, prior and informed consent is obtained from all the Secwepemc people, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.” The Committee also called on Canada to withdraw the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) from the traditional lands of the Secwepemc.

UN Special Rapporteur to comment in September

In March of this year, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples José Francisco Calí Tzay visited Canada. In his preliminary findings, he noted:

“During my visit, I was informed that a large number of megaprojects in Indigenous territories proceed without good faith consultation and in the absence of obtaining Indigenous Peoples’ free, prior and informed consent as, in the case of Trans Mountain Pipeline. I am also concerned about the ongoing militarization of Indigenous lands and the criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders resisting the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines in British Columbia. I urge the Government of Canada to end these violations and to adopt adequate measures to guarantee Indigenous Peoples’ right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent, and their rights to lands, territories and resources.”

He will present his final report to the UN Human Rights Council in September.

Criminalization in a global context

In April of this year, Front Line Defenders released its Global Analysis 2022 report. That report noted: “In 2022, criminalisation in all its forms was one of the most pervasive and complex threats facing HRDs [human rights defenders] and their organisations globally. According to Front Line Defenders data, criminalisation of HRDs, in the form of arrest, detention and legal action, was the most prominent form of attack – comprising 34% of all violations recorded against HRDs during the year.”

The need for accompaniment

In September 2021, Manuel stated: “I really like what Amnesty International and some of those international organizations do by providing security for Native land defenders in South America. They don’t have that here, but we need to be able to provide it for our own land defenders to be able to have security for women and people, Elders who do want to go out and defend land, but they don’t have the security needed to do it because violence comes to us. We’re not asking for it, but it’s coming from the police, it’s coming from the Crown, it’s coming from the corporation, their workers, it’s also coming from just regular civilians that are just white supremacists who want to come with their hate.”

The pipeline

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) is an 890,000 barrel per day, 1,147-kilometre pipeline that would cross Indigenous territories from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. Almost half the length of the pipeline – 518 kilometres of it – would cross Secwepemc territory in British Columbia without free, prior and informed consent.

The Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bought the existing 300,000 barrel per day Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion in May 2018. It is estimated that the pipeline expansion will cost $30.9 billion.

It is now expected to be operational in early 2024.

To follow Kanahus Manuel on Twitter, click here.

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