Amnesty International Canada has expressed disappointment with Canada’s remarks to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in response to allegations of serious human rights abuses against the group of Wet’suwet’en pipeline opponents who have been arrested over the past few years.
Last week representatives of the Wet’suwet’en Nation testified virtually to the commission about the “unjust criminalization of land defenders opposing the construction of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) liquified natural gas pipeline on the Nation’s unceded ancestral territory,” Amnesty International Canada said in a statement.
The construction of the 670-kilometre-long pipeline in northwest B.C. has met with severe resistance from a group of Wet’suwet’en called the Gidimt’en Checkpoint and their allies who claim British Columbia approved the pipeline’s route without the free, prior, and informed consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
On completion, the pipeline will deliver natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to an LNG Canada facility under construction in Kitimat.
Since 2019, there have been several protests and subsequent arrests after clashes with the RCMP. In December 2022, the arrest of several pipeline opponents, including key leaders, at the CGL construction site near Houston, B.C. for breaching court-ordered injunctions resulted in criminal convictions of five people by the Supreme Court of B.C.
Against this backdrop, Amnesty said Canada’s responses showed an “embarrassing disrespect” for the rights and experiences of Indigenous Peoples and the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
They also decried Canada’s and British Columbia’s decision to construct the pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory without the free, prior, and informed consent of the Nation — a violation of the Nation’s rights under Wet’suwet’en law, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and B.C.’s on Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
Although the Canadian government had advance access to the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s written submission to the IACHR, Hugh Adsett, Canada’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States and the government’s representative at the hearing, failed to respond to the Nation’s claims.
“My goal in participating today is primarily to gain a better understanding of the petitioners’ concerns and provide some general and initial context that may help inform the commission’s own analysis,” he said in his introductory remarks.
“Canada’s unwillingness to explain its actions shows an embarrassing disrespect for our Nation’s rights and the rights of all Indigenous Peoples in so-called Canada,” said Chief Na’moks, of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, on July .
“Over and over, international human rights watchdogs and civil society groups have condemned Canada for violating our right to defend our territory, our laws, and our way of life. The government should have no trouble speaking to the attacks on our people that they have committed in the light of day.”
Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English-speaking section, said the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s allegations demand a serious response from the Government of Canada.
“Canada’s refusal to engage with the specifics of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s testimony raises uncomfortable questions about the government’s commitments to respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” she said.
“Today’s lack of response reflects poorly on these commitments.”
Canada’s comments also caused frustration among the members of the IACHR, Amnesty said in the statement.
“It is disappointing that the state did not prepare a full response to the allegations,” Commissioner Carlos Bernal Pulido told the hearing.
“No one questions that Canada, in general, has a constitutional democratic framework. The point is not that. This hearing is about whether the allegations are true or not, whether the state has a response, whether there is justification for the behaviour of the police, and also whether there has been respect or violation to the rights of the Indigenous community in this specific case.”
“We will continue to accompany the Wet’suwet’en Nation in their pursuit of justice,” Nivyabandi said.
“Investment in fossil fuels is a severe threat to the rights, lives, and traditions of Indigenous Peoples today. Canada must listen to — and ultimately, respect the rights of — Wet’suwet’en land defenders rather than punish Indigenous Peoples for protecting their territories and the environment.”