Blockades Continue, Businesses Seek Compensation as RCMP Continues Patrols on Wet’suwet’en Territory
With the RCMP closing its outpost but continuing its patrols on Wet’suwet’en territory, Tyendinaga Mohawks facing a deadline to end their rail blockade in Ontario, and businesses demanding compensation for lost freight access, the community members at the heart of the fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline say they’re a long way from signalling an end to a growing country-wide protest.
Yesterday, CBC reported that shutting down the RCMP’s Community Industry Safety Office (CISO) along a service road leading to the Coastal GasLink pipeline work site was one of the conditions Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs had set on negotiations to end the blockades—but not the only one. “Moving those officers 20-odd kilometres down the road and at the same time increasing the patrols on our unceded territory is not meeting that demand in the slightest,” said Karla Tait, a member of the Unist’ot’en house group and director of clinical services at the Unist’ot’en healing centre. “Our chiefs were pretty clear that out means out. We wanted the presence to be completely removed from our territory.”
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That was after the RCMP announced its withdrawal from the service road Thursday, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday the barricades “need to come down”. The hereditary chiefs “rejected that plea, continuing to demand the removal of an RCMP office and an end to patrols on their territory, as well as ceasing the construction of the pipeline during talks,” the Toronto Star reports.
Near Belleville, Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police and CN Rail told Tyendinaga blockaders they would face investigation and criminal charges unless they cleared the tracks by midnight Sunday, CBC writes. A day earlier, the group told the Globe and Mail they had no plans to move. “We are just going to stay standing our ground until all our demands are met,” said community member Andrew Brant.
The Globe and CBC reported new rail blockades in Saskatoon and East Vancouver.
“We are once again in a fight for our lives,” said Eve Saint, daughter of a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief, one of the community members arrested by RCMP earlier this month.
“We have to fight with everything we have to make change. We will not go silently. We will not lay down and dig our own graves and move out of the way. We are not going anywhere,” she told thousands of supporters who rallied at Queen’s Park in Toronto Saturday.
“Justin Trudeau, we are not going anywhere…Racist Canada, we are not going anywhere. RCMP, we are not going anywhere.”
One of the country’s leading news analyst backgrounded that statement last week, calling out the “breathtaking hypocrisy” in claims that pushing a pipeline through Indigenous territory is about respecting the rule of law.
“Politicians and pundits have been calling for the rule of law to be respected, given the ongoing protests in B.C. and in southern Ontario in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the Coastal GasLink project,” writes Policy Options Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Ditchburn. “The protests have stopped CN and Via Rail trains from running in parts of Canada. But let’s set aside for a moment the question of the legitimacy or illegality of those protests. Where have all these influential voices been on the much larger rule of law question, the one that set the stage for these conflicts in the first place?”
Ditchburn opens her post on the scene of an international celebration last October, where “members of the Heiltsuk Nation finally opened their Gvakva’aus Hailzaqv, their Big House, a red and yellow cedar structure that is the centre of their governance and ceremonial life. Christian missionaries destroyed the last Big House 120 years ago, the Heiltsuk say,” and the potlatch system at the heart of their economic life was outlawed until 1951—still recently enough to be within the living memory of six million Canadians.
More broadly, “for more than 150 years, Indigenous governance structures and legal systems have been dismantled, local knowledge and language deliberately decimated, treaties violated, and Indigenous land settled without a legal leg to stand on,” Ditchburn writes. “Still, even with all the bad laws, bad faith, and shrugging off the rule of law, we can’t seem to muster as a country a heartbeat of empathy or patience or self-awareness.”
That’s in spite of court decisions that “have acknowledged repeatedly that Indigenous laws and rights are part of the rule of law in Canada,” she adds. “Indigenous legal traditions are among Canada’s legal traditions. They form part of the law of the land,” Federal Court Justice Sébastien Grammond wrote in 2018.
Ditchburn surveys the court decisions reinforcing the limits of governance structures imposed under the Indian Act, including the 1997 Dalgamuukw decision that dealt specifically with the authority of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. She traces the “slippery, oppressive” use of Canadian law in Indigenous communities and those communities’ efforts to “revivify their original forms of government”, concluding that the rule of law and the “honour of the Crown” have been disregarded.
“Today, delving into those fundamental issues around land title and Canada’s fundamental violations of the rule of law seems to exhaust the stamina of many Canadian political and thought leaders,” she writes.
Meanwhile, at least one major trade association is asking Ottawa to help cover the economic impact of a rail blockade that dates back to February 6. “Emergency funding is needed to help the Canadian economy during this crisis,” Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters told the Star in a statement Friday.
The national business lobby “is seeking immediate assistance on two fronts—help for laid-off workers and cost-saving measures for businesses to offset added expenses incurred because of the rail stoppage,” the paper reports. “They also want the creation of an ‘emergency business caucus’—made up of the country’s largest trade associations—to advise government.” The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council of Canada also weighed in.
At the Queen’s Park rally Saturday, American Indian Movement President Ginew Kwe (Suzanne Smoke) said the blockades would end once the RCMP leaves Wet’suwet’en territory.
“I kind of laugh that in 12 days all these Canadians are crying about what they don’t have,” she told the Star. “We have suffered for 500 years.”