Canada, Coastal GasLink violated Wet’suwet’en Nation’s human rights: Amnesty International

Police guard a train after people blocked a rail line in support of Wet'suwet'en land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP in northern British Columbia in 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Christopher Katsarov

Amnesty International says Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters were “arbitrarily arrested” for exercising their Indigenous rights in a report released Monday.

The report, ‘Removed from our land for defending it’: Criminalization, Intimidation and Harassment of Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders’ examines human rights violations inflicted upon land defenders through interviews as well as press releases and various government documents.

“This was all part of a concerted effort to remove Wet’suwet’en people from their ancestral territory,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International at a press conference. “This isn’t the first time injunctions have been used to circumvent Indigenous authority.”

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The conflict began at the end of 2018 when the British Columbia Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an interim injunction preventing land defenders from blockading pipeline construction in Wet’suwet’en territory.

Since then, several injunctions have been ordered with various enforcement provisions that have led to violence, human rights violations and four large-scale police actions.

“An injunction is the governments way of acting like they control indigenous lands,” said Howilhkat (Freda Huson), “They have used the police and Forsythe Security to intimidate us — we’ve had people falsely arrested from our checkpoint and they take them as far away from the camp and then release them so they have to find their way back.”

Click to play video: 'Journalist sues RCMP over 2021 arrest at protest camp'
Journalist sues RCMP over 2021 arrest at protest camp

The report includes specific recommendations for the federal and provincial government, RCMP and C-IRG, Coastal GasLink and TC Energy, Forsythe Security and the international community.

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These recommendations range from immediately halting construction in the nation’s territory, suspending all permits and approvals for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, dropping criminal contempt charges against land defenders and stopping the harassment, intimidation and surveillance of Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

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“(This report) gives us confidence and hope that the government will do what its supposed to do; represent people, not industry,” said Chief Na’Moks (John Risdale). “When they supported UNDRIP we had hope, but hope is not legislated, hope is not a law.

“Do I think that it will make a difference? That’s up to the elected officials but it’s up to you who you put in power.”

Nivyabandi said Amnesty International submitted the report to all parties, providing them with a right of reply, however what they’ve heard in response “hasn’t begun to address or answer the recommendations we’ve made in full.”

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In an emailed response to Global News, RCMP Staff Sgt. Kris Clark, “We do not have the option of refusing to enforce court orders and injunctions nor can we delay that action indefinitely.”

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Adding, “The RCMP uses a carefully measured response to civil disobedience and unlawful acts. We will use only the level of force necessary to ensure the safety of all citizens, enforce laws and to maintain peace, order and security.

“The actions of the individual or crowds will dictate the actions of police … to be clear, these protests have been neither peaceful … nor lawful.”

Amnesty’s report explains how the consultation process on Coastal GasLink Pipeline did not meet consultation standards and violated Wet’suwet’en collective rights.

“(Coastal GasLink) deeply altered the nations ancestral territory and way of life,” said France-Isabelle Langlois, directrice générale of Amnesty International. “Our research reveals that land defenders are regularly followed, filmed and photographed by RCMP.”

“We can’t ever access our traditional harvesting grounds because security is always following us and preventing us from doing our cultural activities,” adds Howilhkat. “They’re following us, harassing us, intimidating us — this has been difficult on my clan, our elders don’t like being followed or stopped from doing their cultural activities.”

Hereditary chiefs present at Monday’s press conference — 26 years to the day after the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Delgamuukw v British Columbia, a ruling that reaffirmed Wet’suwet’en customary law — applauded the report for its honesty and truth telling.

“You’ve heard our people, the truth, read this report, it’s the truth and remember we’re doing this for all of you,” said Chief Na’Moks. “We need to protect our future, Canada isn’t.”

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