The Coastal Gaslink pipeline infrastructure that will connect the PETRONAS’ North Montney gas fields to the LNG Canada export terminal on BC’s West Coast must pass through Wet’suwet’en territory and the Wet’suwet’en are objecting and resisting on the basis of Aboriginal title. In Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (1977) the Supreme Court of Canada court defined Aboriginal title as Indigenous peoples’ exclusive right to the land, and affirmed that such title is recognized as an “existing aboriginal right” in s.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Canadian Encyclopedia notes however that, such rights as are recognized and affirmed are, however, not absolute and that Government regulation can infringe upon these if it meets the test of justification under s. 35(1).
Economic development through agriculture, mining, forestry and hydroelectric power, as well as the related building of infrastructure and settlement of foreign populations, are held to be valid legislative objectives that satisfy the justification requirement. These legislative objectives are, nevertheless, subject to accommodation of the aboriginal peoples’ interests in accordance with the honour and good faith of the Crown. Such accommodation of “aboriginal title” entails notifying and consulting aboriginal peoples with respect to the development of the affected territory, as well as providing fair compensation.
According to a media advisory issued on January 14, 2020, a legal complaint has been filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association. with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, against the RCMP Exclusion Zone established at the 27km mark on the Morrice Forest Service Road West in the Wet’suwet’en territories. This exclusion zone has been set up in the context of an escalation of the conflict around the passage Coastal Gas Link (CGL) pipeline . As I have noted before Malaysia’s PETRONAS’ investment in Kitimat is totally dependant on this CGL pipeline which will transport natural gas from PETRONAS’ own North Montney fields.
Harsha Walia, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association has said, “We are extremely concerned about the use of exclusion zones prohibiting Wet’suwet’en people, the public, and media from accessing Wet’suwet’en territories. The Wet’suwet’en assert continuous jurisdiction and unextinguished rights and land title, and the Charter protects liberty, mobility, freedom of the press, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained. This exclusion zone constitutes a serious violation of both the Indigenous rights and Charter-protected rights of Wet’suwet’en people and their family members,”
Further, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, “We expect the provincial government and BC RCMP to honour the Supreme Court of Canada’s precedent-setting Delgamuukw/Gisday’way case and the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples in all their decisions and actions. For Wet’suwet’en people to be denied access to their own territories as a result of a police exclusion zone smacks of outright racism and the colonial-era pass system sanctioned by the so-called rule of law, which our people survived for far too long.”