January 29, 2020
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada Office of the Prime Minister 80 Wellington Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
The Honourable John Horgan, M.L.A.
Premier of British Columbia
PO Box 9041 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC V8W 9E1
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan:
The current stand-off in Wet’suwet’en territory regarding the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern BC is extremely concerning. While it is encouraging that former Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen has been engaged to mediate on behalf of the government, this development does not satisfy the request of the hereditary chiefs for a nation to nation negotiation with the government. I am calling on the federal and provincial governments to take further measures to de-escalate the situation by recalling the RCMP detachment established in Wet’suwet’en territory last year.
I travelled to Wet’suwet’en territory on January 19th and met with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, as well as with RCMP officers stationed in the area. The Wet'suwet'en people are asserting their sovereignty and protecting their lands. The heavy RCMP presence in response to those engaged in non-violent action is alarming. We cannot have more clashes like last January’s armed raids. This situation is the result of political failure. Free, prior, and informed consent from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs has not been given, and yet this project has been approved to proceed. It is essential that both the federal and provincial governments actively engage in negotiating a peaceful resolution of this conflict. The hereditary chiefs already demonstrated their willingness to negotiate with the government when an alternate route for the pipeline was offered, one that would not have cut through pristine wilderness and destroyed portions of the historic and culturally significant Kweese trail.
Aboriginal rights are enshrined in Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution, and the BC Supreme Court’s decision in the Delgamuukw case affirmed that the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs are the title and rights holders of the land in question. Indeed, they were the plaintiff named in that landmark case. The Tsilhqot’in case further clarified that it is the viewpoint of the Indigenous people making the claim that determines Aboriginal title, it is not to be an imposition of the Indian Act.
The government’s actions and insistence on following the “rule of law” undermine both the principles of UNDRIP and of reconciliation and ignore much of the laws and court precedents relevant to this situation.
It is important to recognize that some First Nations elected band councils have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink. Decisions by these councils are also legitimate, but this does not relieve the government of it’s lawful obligation to the hereditary chiefs. Insisting that the hereditary chiefs must negotiate with Coastal GasLink is also contrary to this obligation.
On behalf of the Green Party of Canada, I urge the provincial and federal governments to commit to a peaceful resolution to this situation, without the use of force. We are not alone in this call for a different approach to this issue. A long list of legal professionals from across Canada are “urging BC and Canada to meet with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and to commit to a process for the peaceful and honourable resolution of this issue.”
Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Ladysmith
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, M.P.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
The Honourable Bill Blair, M.P.
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
The Honourable David Eby, M.L.A.
Attorney General of British Columbia
Wet'suwet'en: Pipelines, Politics and UNDRIP (Jan 26, 2020)
Wet'suwet'en: Rule of Law? (Feb 13, 2020)