Statements in Support of Land Defenders
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, November 18
In blind defence of fossil fuel expansion, the RCMP began a publicly funded siege on peaceful land defenders in unceded Wet’suwet’en territory this morning, while BC is in the middle of a state of emergency due to a climate crisis that the entire world is watching. At least 15 supporters have already been arrested; dozens of RCMP have been reported breaching Gidimt’en checkpoint.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) stated, “We are absolutely outraged that the Province of BC authorized a military-style raid on peaceful land defenders in order to allow Coastal GasLink (CGL) to build their Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) pipeline, while much of the Province is suffering from life-threatening, catastrophic flooding related events. The Province of BC continues to pretend that LNG can be clean energy and is a so-called transition fuel when we know that LNG production carries critical environmental and health risks and is a non-renewable source of energy that requires incredibly large amounts of our precious water. Prioritizing fossil fuel expansion while British Columbians grapple with a climate emergency is an alarming, criminal and incredibly poor decision by Premier Horgan and Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. We are calling on BC and Canada to recognize and uphold Indigenous Title and Rights, including the right to self-determination, and institute a moratorium on fossil fuel expansion in the wake of clear and present climate catastrophe.”
On November 14, members of the Gidimt’en clan enforced the eviction of CGL workers from their lands and gave them eight hours to peacefully evacuate before the main road into the Lhudis Bin territory of the Gidimt’en clan was closed. These Gidimt’en members are upholding ancient Wet’suwet’en trespass laws and an eviction notice served by the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs to CGL in 2020. UBCIC does not support or condone violence of any form and remains deeply committed to the recognition and implementation of the Title and Rights of all Indigenous peoples in Canada. UBCIC hopes to see a peaceful resolution of conflict through open dialogue and the respecting of Wet’suwet’en authority and laws. We stand in solidarity with all Nations working together to ensure Canada and BC uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and stop any violent or discriminatory practices against peaceful land defenders.
Haida Nation, November 20
In these times of climate crisis and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, along with the commitments made at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), the governments’ actions against Indigenous Title and Rights and climate change are disappointing stumbling blocks on the path to reconciliation.
The Haida Nation condemns all acts of violence against Indigenous Peoples and ways of life. Indigenous Peoples have called for renewed relationships and equitable systems to address policy brutality, racism in the healthcare system, and dispossession of lands and resources.
It is time for Canada and BC to put words to action and honour Wet’suwet’en Title throughout the Yintah.
“We stand with our Wet’suwet’en relatives in exercising their inherent responsibility to protect their sacred headwaters. The use of a militarized police force against unarmed people and the suppression of communications and media are violations of human rights. The world is watching and it is shameful what is happening. Stay Wet’suwet’en Strong.” – Gaagwiis Jason Alsop, President of the Haida Nation
To our Wet’suwet’en relatives – the Haida Nation will rebuild with you and stand with you to defend your Title and exercise your Rights. We will send people and resources in the coming days.
Indigenous Environment Network, November 20
The Indigenous Environmental Network condemns the actions of Canada as it inflicts settler violence against the Wet’suwet’en peoples, hypocritically breaking both Wet’suwet’en and Canadian law to push TC Energy’s illegal Coastal Gaslink pipeline through unceded territories.
By entering sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory with RCMP, dogs and assault rifles we are witnessing state-sanctioned violence on behalf of an oil company, and such barbarous acts of violence inflicted upon Indigenous peoples cannot be defended. These attacks by RCMP are nothing less than Human Rights violations as defined by the United Nations, and acts of extreme detriment to the inherent sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en. The Wet’suwet’en have asserted self-governance over their territories since time immemorial, and it is their inherent right to defend their lands, resources and bodies from foreign aggressors. They have signed no treaties nor have they relinquished title to their lands. They are not part of so-called Canada and have not consented to bearing the burden of the world’s dependence on an extractive industry such as oil.
We will continue to support the Wet’suwet’en in their struggle and call on others to join us in supporting our relatives. From disrupting business as usual to divesting from banks funding the theft of Indigenous lands, there are steps we can all take to stand with our relatives. These barbarous acts of violent aggression must cease and the inherent right to self determination must be upheld.
How You Can Help
Over the past two days heavily militarized RCMP tactical team have descending on Coyote Camp with snipers, assault rifles, and K9 units.
In total, eleven people were arrested at Coyote Camp, including Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson, Sleydo’, and Dinï’ze Woos’ daughter, Jocey. Four more were arrested at 44km later that day, including Sleydo’s husband, Cody.
Solidarity actions began immediately. Now is the time. Plan, organize or join an action where you are.
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs represent a governance system that predates colonization and the Indian Act which was created in an attempt to outlaw Indigenous peoples from their lands.
The Wet’suwet’en have continued to exercise their unbroken, unextinguished, and unceded right to govern and occupy their lands by continuing and empowering the clan-based governance system to this day. Under Wet’suwet’en law, clans have a responsibility and right to control access to their territories.
The validity of the Wet’suwet’en house and clan system was verified in the Delgamuukw and Red Top Decisions that uphold the authority of the hereditary system on Wet’suwet’en traditional territories.
At this very moment a standoff is unfolding, the outcome of which will determine the future of Northern “BC” for generations to come. Will the entire region be overtaken by the fracking industry, or will Indigenous people asserting their sovereignty be successful in repelling the assault on their homelands?
The future is unwritten. What comes next will be greatly influenced by actions taken in the coming days and weeks. This is a long-term struggle, but it is at a critical moment. That is why we say: The Time is Now.
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, November 19
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) expresses our alignment with the November 17, 2021, statement of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs calling for an end to violence against Wet’suwet’en people and their allies in Wet’suwet’en territory and peaceful evacuation of Coastal GasLink.
As has been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, and in alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the principles of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, Rights and Title to Wet’suwet’en lands have never been ceded.
Preventing Indigenous peoples from accessing their own lands is in itself an act of violence. As an organization of physicians, we assert that access to medicine and warmth is essential for health and must not be restricted. We are also concerned about the mental health and potential trauma of land defenders met with police restrictions and arrest while engaged in protection of their own lands.
“It is disturbing to watch the governments of British Columbia and Canada promise to do everything they can to support stranded drivers and people whose neighbourhoods have turned into lakes while simultaneously allowing the RCMP to block access to Wet’suwet’en territories by Wet’suwet’en people and arrest land defenders,” says Dr. Larry Barzelai of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “We call on Premier Horgan and Prime Minister Trudeau to immediately intervene to end these actions that are restricting access to medication and causing harm to health.”
National Council of Canadian Muslims, November 20
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) on November 20 tweeted its support for the Wet’suwet’en:
“NCCM is deeply concerned about the situation with the Wet’suwet’en members and the reported arrests of journalists covering the situation. We are reaching out to our Indigenous allies to offer our solidarity and our commitment to stand with them.”
Canadian Association of Journalists’ Letter to Public Safety Minister re: Arrested Canadian Journalists, November 22
The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) on November 22 noted that it “is extremely concerned about two Canadian journalists, Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano, who were illegally arrested on Nov. 19 and remain in custody three days later. The CAJ demands their immediate release, the return of their belongings, and for the RCMP to drop all charges.
“More than 40 news outlets and press freedom organizations have signed on to the below letter, calling for Canada’s public safety minister to take immediate steps to investigate and correct the RCMP’s actions and to ensure that going forward, journalists’ right to report will be protected.”
Dear Minister Mendicino,
As we write this letter, two Canadian journalists are being held by police under your jurisdiction for doing their jobs.
This moment demands your involvement to immediately release journalists Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano, and to bring about a swift resolution respecting journalists’ fundamental rights. The national police force has repeatedly acted well beyond the law when dealing with members of the media, in defiance of court rulings. We ask you to exercise your oversight responsibility to correct these serious violations forthwith.
As you are aware, Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano were illegally arrested on Nov. 19 while reporting on the construction of a contentious natural gas pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia. They were within the court injunction area — which court decision after court decision has affirmed journalists’ right to access — when the RCMP took them into custody and confiscated their belongings and equipment.
The RCMP stated the reason for arresting the two was because they had “embedded” with the protestors, which has never been illegal in Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Derek Green affirmed these rights when he found in favour of journalist Justin Brake who faced criminal and civil charges after spending several days inside the Muskrat Falls site covering a protest that shut work down at the dam in 2016. The civil charges were dismissed in 2019 by Justice Green. The criminal charges, too, were subsequently dropped.
Both Bracken and Toledano are journalists that have spent considerable time reporting on the land disputes associated with the construction of the Coastal GasLink project. Last year, Bracken was one of three journalists awarded with the CAJ’s Charles Bury Award for her outstanding contributions to journalism reporting on the Wet’suwet’en crisis for The Narwhal. Bracken was specifically selected for the award for protecting the public’s right to see events unfolding at Wet’suwet’en despite threats of arrest in 2020. Toledano has been living in the Wet’suwet’en territory for the past three years as a member of the media to create a documentary called “Yintah,” which will air on national television in 2022.
The arrests of Bracken and Toledano are just the latest instances of Canadian police detaining journalists who are simply trying to do their jobs. This past Thursday [November 18], the RCMP detained independent filmmaker Melissa Cox, who was later released without charges. This incident marks the second time Cox has been detained while covering a land dispute related to the Wet’suwet’en territory. Previous charges of mischief and trespass were thrown out of court last summer. In addition to Cox, law enforcement also arrested Indigenous journalist and podcast host Karl Dockstader who was covering a land dispute in Ontario. Those charges were later withdrawn.
At Fairy Creek, journalists were also repeatedly threatened and detained by RCMP officers. The situation became so egregious that, in August, the CAJ and a coalition of media intervened in the issuance of an injunction, asking the courts to remind law enforcement of the rights of media.
In two scathing written rulings, BC Supreme Court’s Justice Douglas Thompson determined that the vast exclusion zones, affiliated checkpoints, and media restrictions set up by RCMP officers at the injunction area are unlawful and “seriously and substantially” impacted important liberties. Justice Thompson ultimately refused to extend the injunction when he issued his second decision in September, stating the way the RCMP continued to violate Charter Rights when enforcing the injunction was causing a “depreciation” of the court’s reputation.
With 29 arrests over a two-day span, the decision to detain the press along with protestors represents a move by the RCMP to prevent the public from being informed about what is happening on the ground, during a standoff, which just recently, has included an RCMP vehicle striking an elder, the use of canines to effectuate arrests, and the continuous implementation of excessive exclusion zones.
It is crucial to acknowledge the context in which these detentions, of everyone from land defenders to media workers, are taking place. As Canada and its democratic and civic institutions contend with and promise to redress their roles in the oppression and dispossession of Indigenous people on their land, journalists have a unique and express duty to bear witness to and comprehensively cover news events of consequence. Federal agencies should see it in everyone’s collective democratic interest to not unlawfully impede residents’ access to information of great public concern.
The story Bracken and Toledano are there to cover is not about press freedom. As the Charter expressly guarantees anyone in Canada, including but not exclusively the press, the right of freedom of expression, their legally enshrined rights of access need be honoured so they, and all other media workers, can do the job of covering the story, and not becoming the story.
The RCMP must be held accountable for their repeated violations of the rights of media in Canada. As the minister responsible for their oversight, we demand that you take immediate steps to investigate and correct the RCMP’s actions and to ensure that going forward, journalists’ right to report will be protected in this country.