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Canada: International Delegation to Attend Trial of Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders

June 11, 2024

NationTalk: A delegation of Amnesty International representatives from France, Germany, the United States and Canada will attend the trials of criminalized land defenders from the Wet’suwet’en Nation in Smithers, British Columbia the week of 17 June. The delegates will be there to watch the criminal court proceedings and be in solidarity with the criminalized defenders, Sleydo’ Molly Wickham (Wet’suwet’en), Shaylynn Sampson (Gitxsan) and Corey Jayohcee Jocko (Mohawk).

In December 2023, Amnesty International published the report ‘Removed from our land for defending it’: Criminalization, Intimidation and Harassment of Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders. The publication examines the human rights violations inflicted upon members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and their supporters by the authorities of Canada and British Columbia; CGL Pipeline Ltd. and TC Energy, the corporations building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory; and Forsythe Security, a private security firm contracted by CGL Pipeline Ltd.

Based in part on witness testimony of four large-scale Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raids on Wet’suwet’en territory marked by the unlawful use of force, the report finds that Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters were arbitrarily detained for peacefully defending their land against the construction of the pipeline and exercising their Indigenous rights and their right of peaceful assembly.

Hereditary Chief Na’Moks of the Wet’suwet’en Nation said: “The Canadian government should pay close attention to the fact that there is a delegation from Amnesty International coming to British Columbia to attend these trials. The trials are prosecuting Indigenous people simply for protecting clean air, clean land and our right to be free.”

Hereditary Chief Na’Moks of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“The eyes of the world are on these trials,” Chief Na’Moks added. “If UNDRIP (the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) is to be respected, all the charges should be dropped immediately. It is not illegal to protect what is best for everyone.”

Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International, issued the following statement: “It should speak volumes that the world’s largest human rights organization has a global campaign to stop the criminalization of Indigenous land and water defenders from the Wet’suwet’en Nation. It is appalling that, instead of protecting the rights of these defenders, the authorities of British Columbia have decided to prosecute them. Some of these defenders even face possible jail time. Canada is on the sadly long list of countries in the Americas where land defenders remain at risk for their essential work.”

Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English-speaking section, said: “Amnesty observers have traveled from Europe and the Americas for these trial proceedings, and their presence reflects our alarm at flagrant human rights violations in Wet’suwet’en territory. The world will witness the courage of Indigenous land defenders who put themselves at risk, not only to protect their territory and rights, but to ensure a healthy environment for all of us. We continue to urge Canada to prioritize the rights of Indigenous Nations and their struggle to mitigate climate change.”

Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English-speaking section

France-Isabelle Langlois, Director General of Amnistie Internationale Canada francophone, added: “The concern caused at the international level by the criminal proceedings brought against the Wet’suwet’en and other land defenders should raise a flag for the governments of Canada and British Columbia. We call on both governments to immediately stop the criminalization of those land defenders who were arrested in the context of intrusive and aggressive surveillance, harassment and intimidation by the RCMP and private security firm Forsythe Security.”

France-Isabelle Langlois, Director General of Amnistie Internationale Canada francophone
Additional Background

In June and July 2022, the B.C. Prosecution Service (BCPS) decided to charge 20 land defenders with criminal contempt for allegedly disobeying an injunction order to stay away from pipeline construction sites. Seven of the 20 land defenders pleaded guilty because of restrictive bail conditions, as well as the familial, psychological and financial impacts that the criminal trial process was having on them. Five others had the charges against them dropped.

Several land defenders went on trial in 2023 and 2024. In November 2023, land defender Sabina Dennis was found not guilty of criminal contempt. In January 2024, land defenders Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), Shaylynn Sampson and Corey (Jayochee) Jocko were found guilty of criminal contempt. However, the three land defenders filed abuse of process applications arguing that their human rights were violated by the RCMP during their arrests and detention. The B.C. Supreme Court will continue to hear their applications starting on 17 June 2024.

In February, Likhts’amisyu Clan Wing Chief Dtsa’hyl was found guilty of criminal contempt for violating the terms of the injunction order and will be sentenced in July 2024. The BCPS is requesting jail time.

Five Wet’suwet’en land defenders detained in March 2023 and charged with criminal contempt for allegedly violating the terms of the injunction are waiting for their trial dates to be set.

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