14 Wet’suwet’en activists released due to lack of evidence

The activists were arrested after the police forcibly evacuated the protest camp of the Indigenous communities against the laying of pipelines by Coastal GasLink

April 17, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
The 14 activists outside the court in Prince George County after being freed. Photo: Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidumt'en Territory/Facebook

14 indigenous activists arrested in the Wet’suwet’en territory in January were released after the crown counsel (prosecutors in Canada) dropped charges against them for lack of evidence. The activists were arrested after their decade-old protest camp was violently evacuated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on January 7. Indigenous activists belonging to the Unis’tot’en clan had been camping at the entry points of the government approved construction of a pipeline project by the TransCanada Corporation. The 14 activists were released after three months of legal battle. The news of the release was announced on Facebook, in a video, by two of the arrested activists, Molly Wickham and Chief Madeek. In the video, Wickham said that the charges against them were dropped by counsel of Coastal GasLink, “because they would not win, because we are in the right.”

In 2010, indigenous activists, along with the support of the hereditary chiefs, set up protest checkpoints at major routes through the Wet’suwet’en territory, while a civil case was ongoing in the court. Members from several Wet’suwet’en clans, like Unist’ot’en and Gidum’ten, as well as Indigenous people from other nations and allies from across Canada participated in the building and maintenance of these checkpoints. In December 2018, an injunction was passed by the Supreme Court to allow Coastal GasLink to construct the pipeline through the indigenous land, after which the RCMP initiated a campaign of intimidation that went on for a month. On January 7, the police invaded a Gidum’ten-run checkpoint, and arrested 14 people on the spot.

The arrests prompted nationwide protests, under #ShutDownCanada campaign, almost shutting down the largest city Toronto for a day. Counsel for Coastal GasLink pushed to file criminal charges against the 14 who were arrested, but failed and was asked by the crown counsel to try the activists under civil charges. According to Wickham, the company realized that it would lose a civil case as it did not have valid evidence to prosecute them, and so decided to not pursue it. Chief Madeek said, “I am surprised that we even came this far, because they knew they didn’t have the leg to stand on when they started.”

Wickham also said that the activists were initially asked to remove their “Wet’suwet’en Strong” T-shirts as they entered the courtroom for the hearing, but were eventually allowed to wear them by the court authorities after they protested the arbitrary prohibition.

Update from court!

Gepostet von Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory am Montag, 15. April 2019

The activists have been fighting a long-drawn battle since 2008, with an ongoing civil suit against the 670-km-long oil pipelines by Coastal GasLink, a subsidiary of the TransCanada Corporation. They have raised concerns of a possible violation of treaty agreements between Canada and the Wet’suwet’en clans, in a territory that remains unceded. The clan chiefs, like Chief Amoks and Chief Madeek, have previously also raised fears of damage to land that is sacred to the Indigenous communities. The company claimed that it has an agreement signed between them and the elected Wet’suwet’en band council. However, the hereditary chiefs, who have much support from within the nation, have disputed the authority of the band council in arbitrating the community lands, which traditionally lie with them. The chiefs also endorsed the protest checkpoints and camps built since 2010 and have themselves participated in the protests.

Entrance to Unis’tot’en camp. Photo: Unis’tot’en.camp