Photo: Yintah Access, Media Centre (used by permission)
Amnesty International calls for the federal government of Canada and the B.C. provincial government to end the criminalization of Wet’suwet’en land defenders.
On November 18 and 19, 2021, twenty-nine Indigenous Peoples, supporters, and journalists were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on Wet’suwet’en territory in Northwest British Columbia, Canada for blocking access to a pipeline construction site.
Coastal Gaslink (CGL), the company building the pipeline, was granted an injunction to remove protestors in 2019. The RCMP are empowered to enforce injunctions and have arrested Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters on three separate occasions.
Nineteen land defenders were charged with criminal contempt in July 2022 by the B.C. Prosecution Service for allegedly disobeying the 2019 interlocutory injunction order to stay away from pipeline construction sites, even though these sites are situated on the community’s unceded, ancestral territory.
Five of the land defenders pleaded guilty to violating the injunction’s terms in December 2022 as a result of the constraints placed on them when they were prosecuted, including being prohibited from being on their ancestral territory. The remaining land defenders will go on trial from April 2023 to early 2024. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to prison.
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as the traditional authorities of the Nation. They have not consented to the pipeline, yet Canadian authorities have ignored their concerns. The Wet’suwet’en Nation has the right to decide what forms of economic development should take place on their traditional lands according to Wet’suwet’en laws and customs. All five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nations have opposed the construction of the pipeline that is cutting their territory into two.
Both Canada and British Columbia have adopted legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
On March 10th, 2023, following his ten-day visit to Canada, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples urged the Canadian government to cease pursuing megaprojects like the CGL pipeline on Indigenous territories without genuinely consulting with and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples. He also called for an end to the militarization of Indigenous land and the criminalization of human rights defenders who oppose the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline.
Canada has so far failed to comply with these requests. Meanwhile, leaders say another wave of arrests could result in serious human rights volations.
Call on the federal Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc, B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma, and B.C. Premier David Eby to comply with the Special Rapporteur's recommendation and to respect Wet’suwet’en title and rights.