Indigenous land defenders found guilty of criminal contempt; court will now focus on Charter violations by RCMP C-IRG unit
Video: RCMP C-IRG officers arrest land defenders Sleydo’ and Shaylynn Sampson at gunpoint on November 19, 2021.
We are monitoring news reports and social media posts on the trial of three Indigenous land defenders – Sleydo’ (Wet’suwet’en), Shaylynn Sampson (Gitxsan), and Corey Jocko (Mohawk) – charged with criminal contempt for their opposition to the construction of the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory without consent.
They were arrested on November 19, 2021, during a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) raid on Wet’suwet’en territory.
CBC now reports: “A prominent Wet’suwet’en leader and two pipeline opponents were found guilty of criminal contempt of court for breaking an injunction against impeding work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen read his decision to the court in Smithers on Friday [January 12].”
“Tammen found the accused guilty of one charge each of criminal contempt of court for blocking access to Coastal GasLink pipeline construction in defiance of a court order. In December 2019, the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction barring protesters from impeding the construction.”
The Tyee adds: “While civil contempt requires proof that an accused was aware of and deliberately defied a court order, criminal contempt is distinguished from civil contempt when it is carried out in a public way ‘that would tend to depreciate the court’s authority,’ Crown prosecutor Kurtas Welch said.”
That article then explains: “Criminal contempt penalties can include fines or imprisonment.”
Further reading: “Canada’s legal landscape continues to be heavily in favour of corporations when it comes to court injunctions during conflicts with First Nations over resource development, according to a report released Tuesday by an Indigenous-led think-tank.” (CBC, October 29, 2019).
Abuse of process application
The CBC article adds: “Sleydo’, Sampson, and Jocko have filed abuse of process applications with the court on these charges, alleging the RCMP used excessive force when they were arrested and that they were treated unfairly while in custody.”
In this interview with Brandi Morin, Sleydo’ describes how police forcibly cut a cedar bracelet and medicine bag from her at an RCMP detachment after she was arrested. Sleydo’ says four or five RCMP officers physically restrained her and cut the medicine bag off her body as about ten officers watched.
The CBC also notes: “Tammen will hear the applications before sentencing and the proceedings started after Tammen issued his decision.”
The court filing on Charter violations related to C-IRG violence
A Gidimt’en Checkpoint media release in February 2023 highlighted: “The RCMP/CIRG’s enforcement tactics impaired the Applicant’s individual Charter rights, but the police misconduct also displays a systemic disregard for Indigenous rights and sovereignty and the Charter more generally.”
At the time of the filing, Sleydo’ commented: “Society is rightly concerned with how a special unit of RCMP (C-IRG) acts with impunity, using racist language and violence against unarmed indigenous women. Now it’s in the courts hands to decide if this is acceptable.”
On March 2, 2023, just after the filing, The Tyee reported: “RCMP did not immediately respond to The Tyee’s request for comment about the application to have charges stayed.”
Further reading: Wet’suwet’en land defenders apply for charges to be stayed, alleging Charter violations (Global News, March 2, 2023).
RCMP used “overwatch” in November 2021 raid
On January 12, The Tyee reporter Amanda Follett Hosgood tweeted:
Photo: An RCMP C-IRG officer points what appears to be a C8A3 Carbine Automatic Rifle at Sleydo’, Sampson, other land defenders and journalists inside a cabin on November 19, 2021. The weapon is capable of firing 65 bullets per minute. Photo by Amber Bracken.
Reporting on the RCMP C-IRG raid in January 2019, The Guardian noted: “Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, according to documents seen by the Guardian.”
That article explains that lethal overwatch is “a term for deploying an officer who is prepared to use lethal force.” It also notes that an RCMP planning document for the raid seen by The Guardian revealed “police intelligence indicated that there was ‘no single threat indicating that [land defenders] will use firearms’.”
Following that raid, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure issued this decision that:
The hearing that began on Monday January 8 is expected to continue until Friday January 19. We continue to follow this.