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West Coast Environmental Law statement on recent RCMP actions in Wet’suwet’en territory

Friday, November 26, 2021

xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səl̓ilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Territories/VANCOUVER

West Coast Environmental Law condemns the RCMP’s use of militarized force to remove Wet’suwet’en land and water defenders from their territories earlier this week. We also decry the anti-democratic arrests and silencing of journalists covering the events, whose vital work to document this important story is in the public interest.

Like us, many British Columbians have been stunned by the excessive use of RCMP resources to violently remove unarmed Wet’suwet’en members from their lands – in the name of facilitating fossil fuel expansion – at a moment when the province of BC is struggling to deal with an ongoing state of emergency caused by climate-induced flooding and landslides. BC’s decision to do so sends a signal to the public that the BC government is more concerned with protecting the interests of corporations like Coastal GasLink and fossil fuel projects than with respecting Indigenous rights and ramping up action on climate change.

As West Coast has previously written, the injunction decision that has been used to justify recent militarized police enforcement in this area revealed the distance Canadian institutions still have to go in recognizing the inherent rights and legal orders of Indigenous peoples. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have evicted Coastal GasLink from specified Wet’suwet’en House territories under Wet’suwet’en law. Yet the injunction decision on which RCMP enforcement is based disregards Wet’suwet’en law, profoundly and unjustly impacting the exercise of Wet’suwet’en legal authority and governance.

This week’s actions in Cas Yikh yintah highlight failures in advancing reconciliation at the BC provincial level, but we must not forget that militarized forces being sent to remove Indigenous peoples from their lands is a problem that extends far beyond BC. From the Oka Crisis to Unist’ot’en and Gitxsan territories – militarized enforcement has been used throughout Canada’s history to suppress Indigenous peoples’ voices and movements, who are working to defend their lands, waters, title and rights. These actions, back then and now, hinder good faith negotiations toward reconciling the asserted sovereignty of the Crown with the pre-existing and inherent title of Indigenous peoples.  

Lawyers also note that Coastal GasLink has violated multiple environmental legal requirements in its construction activities and has faced few legal consequences, while Indigenous land defenders exercising their rights and upholding their laws on their own territories face the full brunt of law enforcement.

West Coast calls on the BC government to follow through on its commitment to align its laws, including enforcement of those laws, with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – as it has legally committed to do under the BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA).

In the midst of a climate emergency, which has deeply affected Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across BC, we need a government that will prioritize Indigenous rights and title and climate action over industrial development and corporate interests.