UN committee issues 3rd rebuke to B.C. and Canada over policing of Indigenous land defenders

·2 min read
RCMP officers look on as contractors pass through their roadblock, as supporters of the Unist'ot'en camp and Wet'suwet'en First Nation gather at a camp fire off a logging road near Houston, B.C., on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)
RCMP officers look on as contractors pass through their roadblock, as supporters of the Unist'ot'en camp and Wet'suwet'en First Nation gather at a camp fire off a logging road near Houston, B.C., on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)

On the heels of a third rebuke of the provincial and federal government from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), representatives of the Wet'suwet'en and Secwepemc Nations are restating demands to halt construction of the Coastal GasLink and Trans Mountain pipelines.

In a letter dated April 29, CERD said the governments of Canada and British Columbia "have escalated their use of force, surveillance, and criminalization of land defenders to intimidate, remove and forcibly evict Secwepemc and Wet'suwet'en Nations from their traditional lands..."

The letter goes on to name the RCMP, the RCMP's Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) and private security forces as the perpetrators.

"The fact that Canada has a special task force — C-IRG — to assure industry free access to our lands and to criminalize us for exercising our rights to our thousands of year old governance system indicates to the world that Canada and B.C. maintain an abusive relationship toward Indigenous people," said Sleydo' (Molly Wickham), spokesperson for the Gidim'ten clan of the Wet'suwet'en.

About 5,000 workers in northern B.C. are halfway through the construction of the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project, part of which runs through the territory in dispute. The pipeline is designed to carry fracked natural gas to a $40-billion LNG terminal in Kitimat, B.C., for export to Asia.

Coastal GasLink has noted the project is fully authorized and permitted by government and has the support of all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route.

But Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have opposed the project, saying band councils do not have authority over land beyond reserve boundaries.

Layla Staats
Layla Staats

In 2019, hereditary chiefs and supporters began blockading access to Coastal GasLink pipeline worksites, sparking a military-style response from police and a nationwide discussion about who gets a say in resource development on land claimed as traditional, unceded territory.

The 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will deliver 890,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, B.C., when completed.

Trans Mountain was bought by the federal government for $4.5 billion in 2018. This February it was announced the cost of construction had ballooned to $21.4 billion. On Wednesday, Politico reported the federal government had recently approved another $10 billion in loan guarantees to attract investment to the project.

CERD previously sent letters in 2019 and 2020 asking B.C. and Canada to refrain from using force against Wet'suwet'en and Secwepemc Nations and to withdraw police and security services from traditional territories.

"What this international governing body is saying is treat us fair. Treat us fair and look at the facts," said Rueben George of the Tsleil Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative.

"This is a warning that [the pipelines] are not good projects in multiple ways, and [are] breaking laws in multiple ways."

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