Canada: Act now to respect Indigenous rights on Wet’suwet’en territory

Amnesty International is extremely concerned about the violation of Indigenous peoples’ rights and the arrests of peaceful land defenders on Wet’suwet’en territory. It is the third time in three years that the RCMP have arrested land defenders protecting the territory from an unwanted gas pipeline.

On November 18 and 19, 2021, twenty-nine Indigenous people supporters and journalists were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on Wet’suwet’en territory in Northwest British Columbia, Canada. More arrests followed.

The RCMP made the arrests while enforcing a Supreme Court of British Columbia injunction order obtained by the company Coastal Gaslink. The RCMP enforced the injunction order to remove people from a blockade to prevent drilling under the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River)—a major source of clean drinking water for the communities on the territory and spawning ground to critically endangered wild salmon.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs – the traditional authorities of the Nation – have never consented to the Coastal Gaslink pipeline project, yet Canadian authorities have disregarded their right to self-determination and allowed the project to proceed without their consent. In September, they expressed their opposition to the company’s plans to drill under the river. In addition to the violation of their rights that has taken place and is ongoing, they are concerned about the risks the pipeline poses to their economic, social and cultural rights, and their environment and health.

In 2019, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) assessed Canada’s role in approving the Coastal Gaslink pipeline without free, prior, and informed (FPIC) consent of the Wet’suwet’en people.

The Committee celled upon and urged Canada to:

  • immediately halt the construction and suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en people, until they grant their FPIC, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult;
  • immediately cease forced eviction of Wet’suwet’en peoples;
  • guarantee that no force will be used against the Wet’suwet’en peoples; and
  • withdraw RCMP and associated security and policing services from their traditional lands.

Canada failed to take these actions. Indeed, deployment in November 2021 of yet more heavily armed police to the territory, leading to arrests and increased tensions, represent blatant disregard for the recommendation of the CERD.

Call on the Minister of Public Safety, Mark Mendicino and BC Premier John Horgan to:

  • Immediately withdraw RCMP and associated security and policing forces from Wet’suwet’en territory, as requested by the Hereditary Chiefs and CERD
  • Immediately suspend all permits related to the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline and affiliated infrastructure, as called for by CERD
  • Accept the invitation of Hereditary Chiefs to meet and begin a constructive dialogue about the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, respect for the laws, self-determination and right to FPIC of all Wet’suwet’en peoples

The Honourable Mark Mendicino, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Public Safety

House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Tel: 613-992-6361

Email: marco.mendicino@parl.gc.ca

And

The Honourable John Horgan

Premier of British Columbia

PO Box 9041 STN PROV GOVT

Victoria, BC V8W 9E1

Tel: 250-387-1715

Email: premier@gov.bc.ca

Please send copies to:

MLA Shirley Bond, Leader of the Opposition, British Columbia Liberal Party: shirley.bond.MLA@leg.bc.ca

MLA Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the Green Party of British Columbia: sonia.furtenau.MLA@leg.bc.ca

Additional Information

Since its official backing by the B.C. provincial government was announced in October 2018, the Coastal GasLink pipeline – a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline that would run through Wet’suwet’en traditional territory – has been vehemently opposed by all five Clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. Beginning in January 2019, the RCMP have had a heavy presence on the territory and previously arrested land defenders in 2019 and 2020 for defying a Supreme Court of British Columbia injunction obtained by Coastal Gaslink. The RCMP is reported to have spent nearly CAD $20 million between the end of January 2019 and March 31, 2021 on policing land defenders in Wet’suwet’en territory.

In 2021, Coastal Gaslink made clear its intentions to begin drilling under the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) as part of its pipeline construction work. The river is one of the major sources of clean drinking water in the territory and water defenders have raised concerns about the potential for catastrophic pollution to the river should the pipeline leak, rupture, or fail in any way. Spokespeople for the Hereditary Chiefs say the Wedzin Kwa is a sacred headwater within the territory which provides clean water and salmon spawning grounds. Impacts of a spill on spawning salmon could be devastating.

The Hereditary Chiefs unanimously opposed any drilling under the river and on September 25 gave their permission for water and land defenders to establish a blockade (Coyote Camp) on the company’s drill pad to prevent the company from commencing drilling under the Wedzin Kwa. The camp is situated in Cas Yikh (Grizzly House) territory within the larger Gidimt’en clan territory, one of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) is an essential safeguard for rights that have been systematically abused by colonial states. Canada’s highest courts have recognized that Aboriginal title and rights to determine what happens within the territory rests with the Hereditary leadership structure of the Wet’suwet’en people. While several Wet’suwet’en band councils have signed agreements with the company to provide jobs and benefits for their community members, they do not have decision-making jurisdiction over development decisions for the larger territory. The Wet’suwet’en people have laws and processes in place to make collective decisions for the good of the entire Nation. Therefore, it is important that ALL peoples within the Wet’suwet’en Nation are consulted meaningfully and that they can exercise their right to give or withhold their free, prior, and informed consent according to their own customs, laws, and decision-making processes.

The governments of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Columbia Premier John Horgan have both made commitments to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples, including implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Yet both have demonstrated that they are prepared to ignore the voices of Indigenous Peoples when they say ‘no’ to a pipeline on their territory and to stand by while police enforce an injunction against land defenders. A selective approach to FPIC reinforces rather than transforms the underlying unjust relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.