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No to Laws Which Criminalize Protest in the Name of Protecting Critical Infrastructure!
Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders Call for Support Against Their Criminalization
The people arrested in November of 2021 when heavily armed militarized RCMP raided two camps on Wet’suwet’en territory had their first court appearance at the BC Supreme Court in Prince George on February 14. During the violent invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory, 34 people were arrested including land and water protectors from Wet’suwet’en and members of other Indigenous nations, legal observers and journalists.
Lawyers for the people arrested appeared for them in the court. The lawyer for Coastal GasLink requested a delay and the next court appearance is scheduled for March 14.
Coastal GasLink (CGL) is pursing civil contempt charges, alleging those arrested violated an injunction against interference with work on the pipeline that it is building on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory to transport fracked natural gas from northeastern BC to the LNG Canada plant in Kitimat. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership has not given permission to CGL to build the pipeline on its territory and CGL has also said that it may pursue criminal contempt charges. What was agreed in the court appearance on February 14 was that CGL will review the information received from the RCMP, provide it to the lawyer for the land defenders by March 7 and have a decision on whether it would request criminal charges by March 11. The next court appearance scheduled for March 14 is to determine the date for a subsequent hearing if CGL decides to pursue criminal charges.
Speaking to supporters and the press outside the court, Wet’suwet’en spokesperson Sleydo’ explained the consequences of what happened in court and what support is needed to stop the criminalization of Wet’suwet’en land and water defenders and their supporters. She explained that everyone arrested has been charged with civil contempt of the court order issued by Justice Church that was to stop anyone blocking CGL activity on sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory. She said that the reason CGL wants the delay for a month is to maintain the bail conditions that prevent all the people who were arrested from going onto Wet’suwet’en territory although they are invited guests, family members, part of the community that have every right to be on the territory. Wet’suwet’en law determines who can and who cannot be on the territory, she said, but the court and CGL are making that determination and want to keep that for as long as possible to prevent any resistance from happening on the territory.
She called on supporters to take action to put pressure on the government of BC to make sure that there are no criminal contempt charges. She explained that CGL can ask the Attorney General to lay criminal charges but in the past the Attorney General has declined, based on the fact that it is not in the public interest. An alarming change took place in early 2020 when the Gitxsan organized a solidarity blockade on the CN tracks in their territory. Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and matriarchs were arrested on their own territory and charged with civil contempt. When CN asked the Attorney General to lay criminal charges and the Attorney General declined, the judge granted CN the power to pursue criminal charges. She pointed out that this should not be allowed even within the system of colonial laws. She asked everyone to be aware and make sure this doesn’t happen, that this is something that should not be allowed, “that the private corporation that is destroying our land can then act as prosecution to criminalize and jail us.”
She thanked all those across the country who are supporting the Wet’suwet’en in their fight to defend the land and waters and asked everyone to contact BC Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby to call on them to drop all charges laid against peaceful land defenders, legal observers and journalists. Email address for Premier John Horgan: firstname.lastname@example.org. Email address for Attorney General David Eby: AG.Minister@gov.bc.ca.
See below for video of the gathering outside the Prince George courthouse February 14 click here.
(Renewal Update, posted February 16, 2022. Photo: Community Peacemaker Teams)