Land defenders charged with criminal contempt for defending Wet’suwet’en territory now in Canadian court

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For updates go to yintah_access on Instagram, @Gidimten on X, Gidimt’en Checkpoint on Facebook and the Yintah Access website.

PBI-Canada continues to follow the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders who sought to protect Wet’suwet’en territory against the construction – without free, prior and informed consent – of the TC Energy Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline on unceded lands in northern British Columbia, Canada.

The land defenders were arrested on November 19, 2021. Prior to that, in December 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had called on Canada to stop the construction of the pipeline and withdraw the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) from Wet’suwet’en territory.

On January 8, CBC News reported:

The trial is underway for three people charged with criminal contempt for breaking a court order forbidding them from blocking access to the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Among the accused is Sleydo’, also known as Molly Wickham, who has been the public face of a high-profile Indigenous land rights movement. She is a Wing Chief of Cas Yikh, a house group of the Gidimt’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Sleydo’ stands trial alongside Shaylynn Sampson, a Gitxsan woman with Wet’suwet’en family ties; and Corey Jocko, a Mohawk member of the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy from Ontario.

Photo: Sleydo’, Shaylynn Sampson, Corey Jocko.

The three appeared in B.C. Supreme Court in Smithers, B.C., on Monday to face one charge each of criminal contempt of court related to arrests made during a police raid to enforce the pipeline injunction in November 2021. They each pleaded not guilty. Justice Michael Tammen is hearing the case.

The Crown called two witnesses on the first day of the trial.

The first witness was Julie Jones, a private investigator who was hired by the RCMP to collect and preserve videos posted on social media accounts run by Wet’suwet’en land defender groups, including the Gidimt’en Checkpoint, Wet’suwet’en Strong and Sovereign Likhts’amisyu.

Five of the videos saved by Jones were played at trial. Many of the videos still appear publicly on the Gidimt’en Checkpoint Facebook page and feature Sleydo’.

The second witness called to the stand was James Lank, a former RCMP officer who was a security adviser for Coastal GasLink at the time of the raids. The Crown played two videos recorded by Lank while he was on the stand.

In the first video, recorded on Sept. 25, 2021, Lank and other Coastal GasLink workers confronted land defenders at a blockade along the Morice Forest Service Road. (CBC heard audio of these videos but was unable to view them as there is no video feed for the trial, only a phone-in conference line.)

In response to questioning by the Crown, Lank points out that Sleydo’ and Sampson appear in the video.

The second video, recorded on Nov. 14, 2021, shows a confrontation between Coastal GasLink workers and land defenders at a blockade.

Lank points out that Jocko can be seen in this video.

The Crown is expected to call seven witnesses over the course of the trial, scheduled to take place over two weeks.

Court will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday, with the defence set to cross-examine Lank.

The full CBC article can be read at Trial of prominent Wet’suwet’en leader and land defenders begins.

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