The front right bumper and headlight of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruiser

Canada: RCMP raid of Wet’suwet’en territory a ‘flagrant attack’ on Indigenous rights

The RCMP’s March 29 raid on Wet’suwet’en territory is the latest act in a longstanding “campaign of violence, intimidation and dispossession” against Indigenous land defenders, Amnesty International Canada says.

On Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen RCMP officers encroached upon a Wet’suwet’en village site. They the arrested five land and water defenders opposed to the ongoing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory. The raid transpired only nine months after prosecutors in B.C. laid criminal-contempt charges against 19 land defenders who had protested the pipeline project.

“The RCMP’s latest raid on Wet’suwet’en territory is a flagrant attack on Indigenous Peoples’ rights,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English-speaking section. “The governments of B.C. and Canada are well aware that Indigenous nations have a right to reserve their free, prior and informed consent to infrastructure projects that affect their territories, as stipulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There is no excuse for the criminalization of Indigenous defenders protecting their lands, waters and rights. This campaign of violence, intimidation and dispossession against Indigenous nations must end, now.”

Criminalization of land defenders raising concerns internationally

The raid closely follows the March 2023 visit of Francisco Calí Tzay, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to Canada. In a statement capping off Calí Tzay’s fact-finding mission, he expressed concern with the “ongoing militarization of Indigenous lands and the criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders resisting the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines in British Columbia.”

The abuse of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, as exemplified by the approval of the Coastal GasLink pipeline without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, also figures prominently in Canada’s country profile in Amnesty International’s just-released 2022/23 Annual Report. Launched Monday, the report named Canada as one of several states that failed to protect Indigenous rights by “[going] ahead with extractive, agricultural and infrastructure projects without obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples affected.”

RCMP raid is ‘harassment,’ Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief says

A Wednesday news release on the website of the Gidimt’en Checkpoint land defenders stated that a delegation of Indigenous leaders had planned to protest at the Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) annual general meeting, set for April 5 in Saskatoon. RBC has received criticism in Canada and abroad for its financing of the Coastal GasLink project.

“This is harassment, and exactly what the Royal Bank of Canada is funding,” Chief Na’moks, of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, said in the release. “Ahead of its shareholder meeting next week, RBC continues to fund corporate colonialism, and displace Indigenous Peoples from our lands at gunpoint – all for a fracked gas pipeline we cannot afford now or in the future. In the context of the theft of our ancestral land, alleging stolen saws and clothing is outrageous.”

‘With each new raid on Wet’suwet’en territory, Canada turns back the clock on reconciliation and its commitments to respecting Indigenous rights.’

France-Isabelle Langlois, Amnesty International Canada (Francophone section)

France-Isabelle Langlois, Executive Director of Amnesty International Canada’s Francophone section, and Nivyabandi appealed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, B.C Premier David Eby and B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma to stop the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders rightfully protecting their nations’ unceded ancestral territory.

“With each new raid on Wet’suwet’en territory, Canada turns back the clock on reconciliation and its commitments to respecting Indigenous rights,” Langlois said. “Abandoning prosecution against all Wet’suwet’en land defenders facing charges and suspending construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline will not erase all the harm Canada has inflicted. However, it would be a show of good faith and a welcome investment in a constructive nation-to-nation dialogue between Canadian governments and the Wet’suwet’en people.”