Having arrested 6 Wet’suwet’en defenders on 6 Feb the RCMP arrested another 4 on Friday and 11 more on Saturday 8 Feb in the ongoing conflict between the Wet’suwet’en First Nation (Gilseyhu, Laksilyu, Tsayu, Laksamshu, Gitdumdenet) on one side and corporate interests (TC Energy Corp, LNG Canada, Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi Corp, Kogas Canada)and the state (BC, Canada) on the other. The arrests are pursuant to an injunction granted by the BC Supreme court against the Wet’suwet’en blockade of on the $6.6-billion dollar Coastal GasLink pipeline project.
In extending the injunction on Dec. 31, Justice Marguerite Church is reported to have said, “the Wet’suwet’en people are deeply divided with respect to either opposition to or support for the pipeline project.” As I have noted before, the 5 Wet’suwet’en elected band councils which derive their authority on reservation lands from the Indian Act support the pipeline, while the Hereditary chiefs who claim title to wider territories on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation oppose it.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline, which crosses unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, is owned by TC Energy Corp (formerly TransCanada) with LNG Canada(Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi Corp, Kogas Canada) as a venture partner, whose significance is indicated in TC Energy Corp’s own documents which describe it as a ‘customer’. In other words the pipeline is being built for LNG Canada with investment from LNG Canada, in which Malaysia’s PETRONAS corporation holds a 25% stake.
According to the CBC, 6 people were arrested by the RCMP on Feb 06, 2020 pursuant to an injunction against those blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary Chief Na’Moks is reported to have said, “They came in with armed forces to remove peaceful people that are doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. We’re protecting the land, the air, the water. Our rights and title, our authority as hereditary chiefs. And we’re exercising our jurisdiction … We’ve never ceded nor surrendered our lands. We’ve never signed a treaty. We are the law of the land, we are free people and I will go to my territories.”
The injunction which was issued by the BC Supreme Court, and the consequent arrests, seem to be at odds with Bill 41 of the BC legislature which embraces the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and which, as summarized by West Coast Environmental Law, “requires the government to prepare an implementation and action plan in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous people” Most significantly, this act also seems to recognize the authority of Indigenous governing bodies, like the hereditary chiefs that Chief Na’Moks refers to above, which stand outside the ambit of the Indian Act.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, is reported to have said “It’s an absolute outrage and deeply frustrating that the RCMP is acting in the capacity of a goon squad on behalf of business and industry”. This is where Malaysia’s premier Crown corporation PETRONAS is implicated as one of the corporations with a significant interest in seeing the pipeline implemented, with investments at both ends of it (upstream and down.)
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.”
On 13, 2020, it was reported on the UNIST’OT’EN website that, in what would be an escalation of the conflict over CGL pipeline, the RCMP (Police) have set up an “exclusion zone” at 27km and are blocking media, Wet’suwet’en people, and food from getting up to their territory. The report claims that this is a violation of the Wet’suwet’en’s human rights, of Wet’suwet’en law, and of their constitutionally protected rights as Indigenous people. The report also highlights the fact that the ‘last time RCMP set up an ‘exclusion zone,’ they had authorized lethal force against unarmed people.”
I am observing these developments as a Malaysian resident of British Columbia and I cant help thinking of our own Malaysian indignation at the Indian state’s mistreatment of Kashmiris with curfews and media black outs. Malaysians must be made aware that our premier Crown Corporation stands to benefit from these apparently analogous acts of the Canadian state. 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. So once again, the interests of the exemplary Malaysian bumiputera (indigenous) led enterprise is contrary to the those of a group of indigenous people from British Columbia.