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RCMP arrest Wet’suwet’en land defenders days after COP26 summit

More than thirty people have been arrested over a two-day period during a raid on Indigenous territory in British Columbia

Canadian PoliticsIndigenous Politics

RCMP Emergency Response Team members stand watch during a raid on Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia, November 19, 2021. Photo courtesy Gidimt’en Checkpoint.

Just days after the conclusion of the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and calls from international groups to stop the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders, militarized police violence against defenders in Canada has seemingly become normalized while a key deadline set by a United Nations committee that urged Canada to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline has been ignored.

On November 19, Gidimt’en Checkpoint tweeted:

Earlier that day, around 12:40 pm PT, Gidimt’en Checkpoint had also tweeted:

It is believed that 15 people were arrested on November 19. According to the RCMP, those arrested “were transported to the Houston RCMP Detachment for processing and will be held in custody to appear before the BC Supreme Court.”

This follows the arrest of 15 people the previous day.

Nine of the people arrested on November 18 were released with conditions late in the day on November 19, while five who refused to sign conditions were transferred to Prince George where they will have a court appearance on Monday November 22.

Three journalists arrested

The National Observer reports: “Independent journalist Melissa Cox, who was arrested Thursday, described police throwing people to the ground, punching and, in one instance, using a baton while making arrests.”

Two more journalists were arrested on Friday.

The Toronto Star reports:

Photographer Amber Bracken was on assignment for The Narwhal when she was arrested. Filmmaker and photographer Michael Toledano, a freelance reporter who has been living in Wet’suwet’en territory in order to create a documentary about what Indigenous people face in the region, was also arrested.

Bracken and Toledano are reportedly being detained in Smithers and are scheduled to be transported for a bail hearing on Monday.

Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, says: “It’s completely and utterly shocking the extent to which the RCMP are going to prevent journalists from covering events that are happening in the public interest.”

International groups call for an end to the criminalization of defenders

Just prior to COP26, more than 120 organizations signed the call to action from the Global Women’s Assembly for Climate Justice which states:

We call on all governments to respect the right of freedom of expression and peaceful protest, and to immediately halt the criminalization of land defenders, whose efforts are central to a climate-just world.

That statement calling for an end to the criminalization of land defenders was echoed by Global Witness, Fridays for Future and others.

The UN Human Rights Council also passed a resolution in March 2019 that affirms defenders “must be ensured a safe and enabling environment to undertake their work free from hindrance and insecurity, in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

Third RCMP raid, Canada ignores UN resolution

The RCMP raid on November 18-19 is the third RCMP assault on Wet’suwet’en territory in support of the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline being constructed on their territory without free, prior and informed consent.

On January 8, 2019, the RCMP arrested 14 Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

Notes from a RCMP strategy session prior to that raid show that RCMP commanders stated that “lethal overwatch is req’d” and that officers were instructed to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” ahead of the operation to remove a roadblock established by Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

In December 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory and to remove the RCMP from those lands.

Ignoring that resolution, a second RCMP raid was launched just weeks later on February 6, 2020. Twenty-two land defenders were arrested at that time.

This week Amnesty International Canada called on the governments of Canada and British Columbia, as well as the RCMP, to:

[C]omply without delay with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s 2019 recommendation that Canada withdraw security and policing services from Wet’suwet’en traditional lands.

Canada was required to submit a report to the UN Committee on Monday November 15 on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Instead, Canada delayed that until an unspecified date in 2022.

For updates, follow Gidimt’en Checkpoint on Twitter.

Brent Patterson is a writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He travelled from Algonquin territory (Ottawa) to Wet’suwet’en territory to accompany and report on this story. Follow @PBIcanada.

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