Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who are protesting a pipeline project on their ancestral land in B.C.’s Interior have filed a lawsuit against the RCMP alleging targeted harassment and intimidation.
The notice of civil claim, filed Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court, names the RCMP, B.C.’s minister of justice, Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd., and private security contractor Forsythe.
The suit alleges hundreds of police and private security personnel have attempted to coerce members of the Gidimt’en clan of Wet’suwet’en Nation over the past few months into abandoning homes and village sites on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.
In recent months, the lawsuit alleges, police have threatened and made unlawful arrests, demanded identification from Gidimt’en guests, blocked visitors, entered village sites several times a day, assaulted and battered visitors, shone high beams and spotlights into residential buildings, awakened and harassed sleeping residents, seized Gidimt’en equipment and property, opened doors to residential buildings, and followed individuals on remote forest service roads.
“The police tactics used on Gidimt’en territory have had no lawful purpose or basis. They have been unreasonable and excessive, discriminatory on the basis of race, malicious and an abuse of police powers. They represent an effort to suppress lawful activity and the assertion of Indigenous rights and title,” states the notice of civil claim.
In 2018, members of the Gidimt’en clan set up a checkpoint along the Morice Forest Service Road, about 50 kilometres east of Houston. It includes about a dozen buildings, including cabins and tents and is considered a base for hunting, fishing, and tanning, according to the suit.
The suit contends the gate to their checkpoint was destroyed by the RCMP. In November, 29 people were arrested at the checkpoint for violations of an interim order obtained by Coastal GasLink to remove protesters.
Then, in February, the lawsuit alleges police began “an organized campaign of intimidation and harassment.”
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
The plaintiffs say the actions by the police and security guards have “had a profound effect” on their psychological integrity and well being, and are seeking monetary damages.
In an April 29 letter to the Canadian government, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination says the provincial and federal governments have allowed the increase of force and criminalization by the RCMP against Indigenous “land defenders and peaceful protesters.”
The letter, which is the third one sent to the government, also says despite repeated calls to Canada to cease forced evictions of Indigenous people, the efforts to remove and incarcerate have only increased.
The committee says it has received information that alleges the governments of B.C. and Canada “have not taken measures to engage in consultations with Secwépemc and Wet’suwet’en peoples regarding the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Coastal GasLink Pipeline.”
In November, members of the Gidimt’en clan ordered all Coastal GasLink employees to leave the Wet’suwet’en territory in the B.C. Interior. However, Coastal GasLink said a B.C. Supreme Court injunction allows the company to have “continued safe access” to the area.
The 20 elected First Nations councils along the pipeline’s path approved the project, but Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs from all five clans of the nation claimed the project had no consent under their traditional system of governance.
— with a file from The Canadian Press
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