Wet’suwet’en land defenders in Canada are at risk of serious human rights violations as the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline has reportedly begun under the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River), said Amnesty International today.
‘The decision to allow the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en lands without the free, prior, and informed consent of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs is a brazen violation of the community’s right to self-determination and a lamentable step backwards in Canada’s journey toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.’Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
“The decision to allow the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en lands without the free, prior, and informed consent of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs is a brazen violation of the community’s right to self-determination and a lamentable step backwards in Canada’s journey toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Moreover, expansion of fossil fuels extraction and infrastructure is against Canada’s obligation to protect human rights from the worst impacts of the climate crisis,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English-Speaking). “Amnesty International Canada calls on the governments of Canada and B.C. to halt pipeline construction in the traditional, unceded territories of the Wet’suwet’en.”
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs – the traditional authorities of the Nation according to Wet’suwet’en Law as well as the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw ruling – have never consented to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, even though some elected First Nations governments have signed benefit agreements with the company. The Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) is one of the last remaining clean sources of drinking water and salmon spawning grounds in the territory, and Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have raised concerns that the pipeline project would damage the river.
Peaceful protestors and land defenders occupied the drill pad site in September 2021. British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety authorized militarized police forces to arrest and forcibly remove land defenders from the territory in order to enforce an injunction obtained by the company. Wet’suwet’en and other land defenders faced three raids by heavily armed police, and 19 people are currently facing criminal contempt charges for defying a court injunction that authorizes the police to remove people occupying permitted work sites.
Wet’suwet’en land defenders say they are harassed, intimidated, forcibly removed, and criminalized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the company’s private security guards solely for peacefully defending their traditional lands over which they have title. In May, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a third letter to Canada noting its concern over the escalating use of force, surveillance, and criminalization of land defenders and peaceful protestors by the RCMP, its Community-Industry Response Group and private security firms.
“The Canadian government must immediately withdraw security and policing forces from Wet’suwet’en territory and investigate all allegations of harassment, intimidation, threats and forced evictions of land rights defenders and others peacefully protesting against the pipeline. Continuing with the construction of this pipeline in Indigenous territory will further endanger human rights defenders, Wet’suwet’en communities and ultimately our planet,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
Chief Na’Moks said, “Even though they have started to illegally drill with illegal permits from the government of BC, the Hereditary Chiefs have never been supportive nor have given consent for this project. We will continue to oppose this pipeline using all means necessary, as it is our Traditional law. No elected official nor an industry can overrule nor ignore our decisions as a nation who have never ceded, surrendered nor signed a treaty.”