Demonstrators at Toronto rally call for release of people arrested by RCMP in Wet'suwet'en territory

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Demonstrators at a rally in downtown Toronto on Saturday. The rally was held in support of Wet'suwet'en land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP on Friday in northern British Columbia. (Dalia Ashry/CBC - image credit)
Demonstrators at a rally in downtown Toronto on Saturday. The rally was held in support of Wet'suwet'en land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP on Friday in northern British Columbia. (Dalia Ashry/CBC - image credit)

Dozens of people gathered at a solidarity rally in downtown Toronto on Saturday in support of Wet'suwet'en land defenders.

On Thursday, the RCMP arrested 14 people and cleared a forest service road in northern British Columbia that was barricaded by Wet'suwet'en First Nation and Haudenosaunee members, blocking access to work camps operated by Coastal GasLink (CGL).

Thursday's move by the RCMP marked the third time it has launched operations on this road against supporters of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who oppose the construction of a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline. They say the pipeline does not have consent to cross Wet'suwet'en territory. The RCMP also conducted raids in 2019 and 2020.

Fifteen more people were arrested Friday as police action continued against opponents of the project, which would carry natural gas obtained by fracking in northeastern B.C. to a $40-billion LNG terminal on the province's North Coast for export to Asia.

Eve Saint, a Wet'suwet'en land defender who attended the Toronto demonstration, described Thursday's events as "modern-day genocide."

"What they did is wrong. This pipeline is illegal and they do not have the proper and informed prior consent from the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and the community as well," Saint told CBC Toronto.

"We want the RCMP and CGL to stop brutalizing Indigenous people, especially the Wet'suwet'en."

While the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeloine, Coastal GasLink has signed deals with 20 First Nation elected band councils along the pipeline route, including from Wet'suwet'en territory.

'We've endured enough oppression'

Crystal Sinclair, an Indigenous rights activist with Idle No More Toronto, said in addition to the safety and release of those who were arrested, she is are calling on the RCMP to get off the territory of the Wet'suwet'en. She said those arrested are simply protecting the land and water.

"All my life as an Indigenous person I've been standing up against systemic oppression and it boils down to us saying enough is enough," Sinclair said.

"We've been patient long enough. We've endured enough oppression."

Chris Gargus/CBC
Chris Gargus/CBC

Sinclair said now that Indigenous issues are at the forefront of Canadian society, everyone must respect Indigenous treaties, rights, lands and laws.

"Moving forward I'd like to see that our treaties are honoured — that if we are consulted and we say no is the answer, it has to be respected," she said.

"It's the Indigenous people who live on those lands, who are first impacted by climate change as well as the environment around it ... I want them to respect the climate and start building a sustainable economy — things that sustain us, not destroy the land and the environment."

Chris Gargus/CBC
Chris Gargus/CBC

Meanwhile, Brian Champ, a local activist who attended the rally, said Canada should stop producing oil, but he said the Liberal government's climate plan is "literally built around revenues from the [Trans Mountain] Pipeline."

"It's madness, it's actually madness," Champ said.

"We need to phase out fossil fuels but that's connected to respecting Indigenous sovereignty and that's really why we're here today. It's to respect Indigenous sovereignty, to say no."

Champ called on Canadians to support the hereditary chiefs, and said he's also hoping to see workers organizations speak up.

Last year, opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline among Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs sparked solidarity rallies and rail blockades across the country.

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