The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has sent a letter to the RCMP warning against “an impending, and possibly large-scale, RCMP action in relation to the Unist'ot'en camp”.
The Unist'ot’en camp is a settlement that some members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation began constructing in northwestern B.C. in 2010. Its location was strategically selected to obstruct the path planned for the Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline. The settlement has since been expanded in opposition to the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, which would follow a similar route across the province.
“We understand that the RCMP may have already taken a decision, or be about to take a decision, that the RCMP will move in and remove people from the Unist'ot'en camp by force if necessary,” the BCCLA letter reads. “If we are mistaken in this, we hope that the RCMP will clarify this with the public immediately. We are deeply concerned that such an approach would be disastrous and would not respect the constitutionally-protected Title and Rights of the Unist'ot'en, as well as their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The letter goes on to present a legal argument that outlines the Wet’suwet’en’s right to occupy the area in question.
“A move by the Crown to remove the Unist'ot'en camp would be at odds with these legal principles and with respect for their Title and Rights,” it reads. “We are extremely concerned with the suggestion that the RCMP may proceed without a court order, and without the Unist'ot'en having any opportunity to defend themselves in court.”
The BCCLA letter, which is signed by executive director Josh Paterson, concludes by urging the RCMP to reconsider any plan it might have to move on the Unist'ot'en camp.
The BCCLA’s warning follows the publication of a similar letter signed by a long list of organizations that range from environmentalists to civil-liberties advocates that’s titled, “We Stand with the Unist’ot’en”.
Those include Greenpeace Canada, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), Idle No More, and the SFU Institute for the Humanities, as well as individuals including David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
That letter claims the Unist'ot'en camp enjoys significant support despite being relatively small in size.
“We are deeply and gravely concerned to learn from a variety of sources that the RCMP appear to be on the verge of executing a highly provocative and dangerously reckless operational plan to make arrests,” it reads.
It states the organization signatories “denounce any attempt by the federal government, provincial government or RCMP to interfere in the rights of the Unist’ot’en to occupy, manage, or maintain their lands.”
The second letter was made public with a UBCIC media release. “The Indigenous Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northwestern BC are on high alert about a likely impending large scale RCMP mass arrest operation on their territory,” it reads.
Update: According to the Smithers Interior News, TransCanada recently reported Unist’ot’en camp members to the RCMP. That followed activists blocking four TransCanada vehicles from entering Wet'suwet'en territory for the purposes of conducting "environmental fieldwork" related to the construction of a proposed natural-gas pipeline.
The RCMP responded to a request for comment regarding the BCCLA's letter with a statement that alludes to ongoing interactions between members of the extractive industry and Unist'ot’en camp residents.
"We are aware of the letters and understand that there has been some discussions on social media that don't accurately reflect the RCMP's action or the situation," reads an email supplied by RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Janelle Shoihet. "To date there has been no police action. It is our understanding that discussions between industry and the Wet'suwet'en are still possible."
The RCMP's claim that there has been no police action contradicts Wet’suwet’en people's reports of recent increased police activity in the area around the Unist'ot'en camp.
The RCMP's statement goes on to emphasize the force remains "impartial" in the Wet'suwet'en's dispute with corporations.
"Our efforts all along have been in keeping the peace, negotiations, and bringing the affected parties to the table for a fruitful discussion in the hopes of coming to a resolution," it reads. "We will continue to work with all stakeholders and provide assistance as necessary in maintaining peace and keeping everyone safe."More