Alberta’s anti-protestor bill suppresses democracy and violates treaties, say critics

Canada’s laws have long been used against Indigenous Peoples

Critics are warning that a bill introduced by the Alberta government to impose large fines and prison time on people participating in blockades or protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” suppresses democracy and violates treaties.

Austin Mihkwâw, a Samson Cree activist from Treaty 6 territory, says many of the industrial megaprojects that have and would be targets for civil disobedience are already violations of legally binding treaties, which did not entail surrender of the land and only allowed for its use “to the depth of a plow,” for example.

Indigenous sovereignty and title underlie the recent surge in blockades and protests.

The bill, introduced by Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party on Tuesday, stipulates that no one shall “enter on” or “interfere” with critical infrastructure “without lawful right, justification, or excuse.”

“What do you define as justification?” asks Mihkwâw. “Protecting the water? Protecting the children? Protecting the future?”

While actions like railway blockades are already illegal under federal law, the Alberta bill allows for arrest without warrant. It also adds additional penalties, such as fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 for a first offence, and up to $25,000 for each subsequent offence. On top of fines, individuals may face six months in jail.

Bill follows weeks of solidarity actions

The new legislation comes after weeks of solidarity actions with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the presence of pipeline company Coastal GasLink and the RCMP on their territory in northwestern B.C. People across the country have blockaded rail lines, ports, highways, and government buildings.

Premier Kenney blamed the recent decision of Teck Resources Ltd. to withdraw its application for the $20-billion Frontier oil sands mine on what he called a “general atmosphere of lawlessness” created by acts of civil disobedience — actions he also said are keeping Indigenous communities from moving from poverty to prosperity through resource development.

But Mihkwâw says the premier’s concern for Indigenous communities is not genuine.

“Jason Kenney has no right to act like he cares about the bands or Indigenous people,” he says.

The infringement on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and Indigenous title are all reasons the proposed law could be found unconstitutional.

Provincial and federal governments are only interested in Indigenous communities when they find it serves their purposes, and “the only time Indigenous sovereignty is acknowledged is through the colonial states they created,” he says, referring to the elected band council system imposed on First Nations through the Indian Act.

Indigenous sovereignty and title underlie the recent surge in blockades and protests. In the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw v. British Columbia decision, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the existing right of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to the “exclusive use and occupation” of their traditional lands, a right the hereditary chiefs are demanding be upheld through the removal of the RCMP and Coastal GasLink from their territories.

“You see these levels of civil disobedience because that’s a necessary way for them to advocate for their rights and themselves as well,” Mihkwâw says, adding that communities often fail to find justice through the Canadian legal system.

“The side of the law has never been on the side of Indigenous people,” he says, and throughout Canadian history are examples of profoundly unjust but legal measures such as the Indian Act and the residential school program.

Constitutional issues

The Alberta bill defines essential infrastructure broadly to include refineries, pipelines, mines, railways, highways, dams, waterways, communications systems, electric utilities, farms, and any land used in connection with said infrastructure. In addition to this extensive list, the bill allows for the provincial government to designate “buildings, structures, devices or other things as being essential infrastructure.”

This conflates public and private property, an important distinction when talking about Charter rights such as the freedom to peaceful assembly. Further, the bill could be used to clamp down on dissent by having the site of a protest declared to be “critical infrastructure.”

Though Kenney’s assertion that “urban green left militants” were responsible for Teck’s withdrawal doesn’t appear to be credible — the company cited regulatory uncertainty and economic concerns as the principal reasons — his rhetoric was no doubt successful in stirring up further animosity towards Alberta’s growing social and climate justice movements.

His government is relying on this divisive and antagonistic narrative that protesters are responsible for lost jobs to justify the need for sweeping penalties.

“Bills like this are deliberately designed to suppress democratic participation in our communities, and I think it’s truly abhorrent that the government is passing laws like this,” says Robert Miller of Extinction Rebellion Edmonton.

The infringement on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and Indigenous title are all reasons the proposed law could be found unconstitutional. The constitutional merit of the law, however, likely cannot be challenged until someone is arrested and charged under it — a condition Miller says many people would be happy to bring about.

“I think that there is going to be an appetite in our community, and even myself personally, to try and embarrass the government by getting willfully arrested, just to be able to have the standing to challenge them in court and demonstrate from a legal backing that it is unconstitutional.”

Indigenous land conflicts to persist unless sovereignty addressed, Wilson-Raybould says

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Jody Wilson-Raybould said protests like the dispute over a pipeline development in the ancestral Wet’suwet’en territory will happen again unless the Canadian government actively works towards addressing Indigenous sovereignty.

“This situation that we’re seeing in Wet’suwet’en territory, as we’ve seen in other territories around major resource development projects, are going to continue to happen until we address the fundamental underlying reality and of the inherent right of self-government of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that Indigenous Peoples can finally make their way and see themselves in our constitutional framework,” she said in an interview with Global News Ottawa Bureau Chief Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday’s episode of The West Block.

The Vancouver member of parliament said she understood the impact the railway blockades had on Canadians, but said it was both the responsibility of the RCMP as well as political leaders to come to an amicable solution.

Protesters block rails in Vaughan, Ont. in latest Wet’suwet’en solidarity demonstrations

“It’s the responsibility of all of us. We got here to this place and leaders, elected leaders need to do their jobs, and that is to lead, to de-escalate the situation,” she said.

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Tensions between the government and the Wet’suwet’en Nation have been escalating since Dec. 31, when British Columbia’s Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction that established an exclusion zone against protesters interfering with the construction of a $6.6-billion pipeline that is expected to carry natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a massive export plant being built near Kitimat.

If completed, the 670-kilometre pipeline would pass through the nation’s unceded territory not covered by treaty.

The project has the support of the elected band council — but not by the territory’s hereditary chiefs, which is where Wilson-Raybould said confusion comes in.

“We have the imposition of a colonial statute called the Indian Act, which has determined that First Nations groups elect leaders and that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the elected leadership in the Wet’suwet’en territory, or that they may or may not speak for the Wet’suwet’en people. But so, too, do the hereditary chiefs,” she said.

The hereditary chiefs contend that governments do not have their consent and responded by issuing the company an eviction notice in early January, asserting the company was violating their traditional laws.

The RCMP said they had delayed enforcing the injunction for weeks to seek a peaceful resolution, but without one, they had no choice but to follow the court’s orders. On Feb. 6, the situation escalated and six people were arrested at the pipeline construction site by RCMP who were trying to clear the area. Since then, dozens more protesters have been arrested.

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The anger felt by protesters in Wet’suwet’en have inspired protests and demonstrations all over Canada, resulting in massive rail blockades across the country. On Thursday, VIA Rail announced it would be shutting down a majority of its train services in Canada over the blockades.

A protester carries a sign at a rail blockade on the tenth day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., Feb. 15, 2020.
 A protester carries a sign at a rail blockade on the tenth day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., Feb. 15, 2020. Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press

Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first Indigenous attorney general and justice minister, said under the constitution, it is up to the Indigenous Peoples who reside in Wet’suwet’en to determine what happens on their territory. inue to impact resource development projects, will continue to impact other jurisdictions as exercised by the federal government and provincial governments until, as a country, we create the space necessarily… for Indigenous Nations to rebuild within a stronger Canada, said Wilson-Raybould.

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“When we do that, when Indigenous Peoples finally see themselves and can exercise their inherent rights of self-government, the country will be the better for it.”

Wilson-Raybould, a former Liberal, sits as an independent MP after winning 30.7 per cent of the vote in last year’s federal election.

Following what was described by Wilson-Rconstiaybould as “consistent and sustained” pressure from members of the Trudeau administration to resolve criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin,  she was demoted from her position as attorney general and justice minister and dismissed from the Liberal caucus last year. In August, a report by the federal ethics commissioner found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act.  SOURCE

Coastal GasLink posts injunction order giving opponents 72-hours to clear way toward its work site in B.C.

Na’moks, centre, a spokesman for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, speaks during a news conference in Smithers, B.C., on Jan. 7, 2020. The order stamped Tuesday by the B.C. Supreme Court registry addresses members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and supporters who say the project has no authority without consent from the five hereditary clan chiefs.

A natural gas pipeline company has posted an injunction order giving opponents 72 hours to clear the way toward its work site in northern British Columbia, although the company says its focus remains finding a peaceful resolution that avoids enforcement.

The order stamped Tuesday by the B.C. Supreme Court registry addresses members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and supporters who say the Coastal GasLink project has no authority without consent from the five hereditary clan chiefs.

It comes one year after the RCMP’s enforcement of a similar injunction along the same road sparked rallies across Canada in support of Indigenous rights and raised questions about land claims.

The order requires the defendants to remove any obstructions including cabins and gates on any roads, bridges or work sites the company has been authorized to use.

If they don’t remove the obstructions themselves, the court says the company is at liberty to remove them.

It gives authorization to the RCMP to arrest and remove anyone police have “reasonable or probable grounds” to believe has knowledge of the order and is contravening it.

“The police retain discretion as to timing and manner of enforcement of this order,” it says.

Coastal GasLink, however, says posting the order was procedural and the company has no plans to request police action.

The B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction to Coastal GasLink on Dec. 31. The order stamped Tuesday provides details of the court injunction.

Previous injunction and enforcement orders remained in effect until the new order was issued, Coastal GasLink spokeswoman Suzanne Wilton said.

Obstructing access was already prohibited under the previous orders and they also included enforcement provisions.

“We continue to believe that dialogue is preferable to confrontation while engagement and a negotiated resolution remain possible,” Wilton said in an email.

The company declined an interview request.

The order does not apply to a metal gate on the west side of a bridge outside the Unist’ot’en camp, unless it is used to prevent or impede the workers’ access.

Hereditary chiefs negotiated last year with the RCMP for the gate to remain outside the camp, which is home to some members of one of the First Nation’s 13 house groups, so long as it would not be used to prevent workers from accessing the work site.

Fourteen people were arrested by police officers at a checkpoint constructed along the road leading to both the Unist’ot’en camp and the Coastal GasLink work site on Jan. 7, 2019.

The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along the 670-kilometre pipeline route, but the five Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chiefs say no one can access the land without their consent.

The pipeline is part of the $40-billion LNG Canada project that will export Canadian natural gas to Asian markets.

Coastal GasLink shared photos Tuesday of what it says are more than 100 trees that have been felled across the logging road.

The RCMP said its officers came across the fallen trees on Monday as they were conducting regular safety patrols along the Morice West Forest Service Road. In a statement, the RCMP said some trees along the road are a safety hazard because they were partly cut and the wind could cause them to fall without warning.

Police say they also found three stacks of tires covered by tarps and trees, which contained several jugs of gasoline, diesel, oil, kindling and bags of fuel-soaked rags.

The RCMP say the hereditary chiefs were advised of what was found and have been told police are conducting a criminal investigation over traps that are likely to cause bodily harm.

“We want to emphasize that we are impartial in this dispute and our priority is to facilitate a dialogue between the various stakeholders involved,” the Mounties said. “We remain hopeful that these efforts will result in a resolution.”

At a news conference Tuesday, hereditary chief Na’moks called for construction to cease and for the B.C. government to revoke the company’s permits.

He said the Wet’suwet’en felled the trees to protect their own safety.

Members of the Gidimt’en, one of five Wet’suwet’en clans, and supporters reoccupied the area along the logging road in April near the site where the injunction was enforced last year.

Jen Wickham says her fellow members are concerned that it could be enforced before the 72 hours is up, since a previous injunction was already in place.

Lawyer Michael Lee Ross, who represents the Wet’suwet’en members named in the injunction, said once the new injunction order was stamped, the previous one became a historic document.

However, he said the RCMP could step in at any time if they find reason to.

Ross said his clients are discussing a possible appeal of the order.

“A challenge of an order is normally a challenge of the legal basis on which the order is grounded. So that is one of the avenues that is still open to them,” he said Wednesday.

Image result for Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs held a press conference

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs held a press conference calling for construction to cease and for permits to be suspended on the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Spokesman Na’moks says the First Nation won’t meet with industry representatives, only “decision makers” like the provincial and federal governments.

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Talking about the “Indigenous vote” won’t end Canada’s fraught relationship with First Nations.

Emily Riddle: Here we are in 2019 and the discourse in this election around the ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship has been very different.Emily Riddle: Here we are in 2019 and the discourse in this election around the ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship has been very different. Photo by Conor McNally.

Tan’isi. My name is Emily Riddle. I’m nehiyaw from Treaty 6 with a few things to say about the federal election. Welcome to The Run.

There are opportunities when settlers elect a government that chooses to provide funding for services, such as health and education, negotiated in treaties.

But don’t assume the outcome of federal elections will provide major gains for Indigenous peoples.

Settler law made in the House of Commons affects our lives, and the actions taken (or not taken) by the next federal government will have serious implications for our inherent and treaty rights.

I’ve worked in First Nations policy and studied Indigenous governance for the past 10 years. I’ve seen the shift from aggressive anti-Indigenous legislation and policy under the Harper government, which gave rise to resistance through groups like Idle No More, to perhaps a more gentle erosion of inherent and treaty rights under the Trudeau government, along with some meagre increased funding for education, health and infrastructure.

I recently moved from Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories back to my home territories in Treaty 6. The conversations around the election in Alberta are very different than those in British Columbia.

Many suspect that Alberta will go entirely Conservative. In some ridings, including Sturgeon County-Parkland, where my First Nation finds itself, the riding has historically been solidly Conservative. With the provincial United Conservative Party budget coming on Oct. 24, many First Nations people in Alberta are bracing themselves for possible cuts to Indigenous services and programs at both the provincial and federal levels (should Conservative leader Andrew Scheer form a government).

I pay close attention to federal elections, party platforms and bills tabled in the House of Commons. But I don’t vote in federal elections. I view not voting as a small political dignity I’m able to maintain as a Treaty 6 person whose people have never given up the right to govern ourselves and our territories.

Voting has historically been connected to the “enfranchisement” of First Nations people. When a First Nations person was enfranchised, they ceased being able to access any inherent and treaty rights and were “welcomed” to Canada as a full citizen.

But if our first experience with Trudeau taught us anything, it’s that First Nations people are at least “Citizens Plus” — we have additional rights as Indigenous people that go beyond our rights as Canadian citizens.

Many Indigenous people see voting differently, with some thinking of it as a harm-reduction technique. Others choose to vote as proud Canadians or dual-citizens of their Indigenous nation and Canada.

However, there are only 12 ridings in Canada where Indigenous people make up 20 to 50 per cent of the population and have a significant impact on who will be elected. Considering we used to be 100 per cent of the population and govern ourselves, showing up to the polls seems like a very small political act.

We can’t ignore the fact that a Conservative federal government likely means increased Indigenous death. Cutting essential services, which conservative governments often do, is a form of state violence, and we know that Indigenous peoples often lack access to basic needs such as clean drinking water and health care.

Unsurprisingly to any First Nations person from Alberta, Justin Trudeau inherited a few things from his father, including some of the logic of the proposed Indigenous Rights, Recognition and Implementation Framework from the 1969 Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy. Groups such as Idle No More, Defenders of the Land and Truth Campaign Networks asserted that the framework sought to convert Indigenous nations into an ethnic minority within Canada, devoid of rights as nations.

So here we are in 2019, and the discourse in this election around the “nation-to-nation” relationship has been very different. Trudeau is certainly not talking about “Canada’s most important relationship” like he did in 2015 or at the beginning of his term as prime minister.

In fact, the New Democratic Party and the Green Party of Canada are the only ones who have revealed their platform positions on Indigenous issues. Both contain significant promises to work towards mending the relationship with Indigenous peoples, including increased spending on health and wellness, child welfare and education. It’s important to remember that we only make up a significant population in 12 federal ridings, so these promises are still directed at settler voters.

To the settlers who show up to vote with their relationship with Indigenous peoples and our territories in mind, please know that your responsibilities extend beyond that small act. If you live in an area with a treaty, learn your rights and responsibilities under that agreement. If you live in an unceded area, learn about and support the nations whose territory you occupy.

Rather than voting, my responsibility is to continue to advocate for the return of our territories from Canada and the renewal of our own governance systems, as I have argued elsewhere.

No matter what prime minister Canadians elect on Oct. 21, the relationship with Indigenous peoples will be fraught as long as Canada continues to claim sole sovereignty over our territories. SOURCE

It’s time for a Recognition of Wrongs framework

Image result for policy options: It’s time for a Recognition of Wrongs framework
Photo: Shutterstock, by Nalidsa

pon taking power in 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau characterized Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples as of primary importance: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.” As a token of this friendship, Trudeau promised an extensive review and reconfiguration of federal laws and policies that concern Indigenous peoples.

In 2018, Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, initiated consultative rounds with experts for what would become the draft Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework (RIIRF) legislation. The stated intent was to provide a legislative framework to recognize and animate Indigenous rights. The experts consulted were highly critical of the assumptions and objectives of the legislative draft, and after a couple of redrafts the matter was consigned to the political closet of failed initiatives. The RIIRF initiative left many participants suspicious of the federal government’s intentions, its truthfulness and its competence. After all, given the gap between Indigenous aspirations, current law and the proposed recognition legislation, one had to assume either bad faith or stupidity in the conception of the initiative.

The RIIRF was deeply problematic because it functioned to limit rather than enable the exercise of existing Indigenous rights. Moreover, the draft did not measure up to the requirements set by Canadian constitutional law and was inconsistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP is the international gold standard for recognition of Indigenous rights. The Harper Conservatives were part of a cabal of four states resisting the 2007 adoption of the declaration by the UN, and once the declaration was passed, they continued their foot-dragging at home, maintaining Canada’s “objector” status. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Trudeau Liberals removed the objector designation, fully endorsing Canada’s adoption of the declaration. Now, Canada must attend to implementation — to making its policy and legislation consistent with UNDRIP.

The RIIRF framework does not refer to Indigenous nations as governments, instead describing them as legal entities likened to “natural persons,” a legal term with the potential for the corporatization of Aboriginal and treaty rights. Corporation models reframe Indigenous government so that Indigenous rights resemble those of corporations — whose duties are to shareholders rather than citizens — rather than being a distinct form of rights that arise from our prior existence on our territories (inherent rights) and from treaties. This model does not produce governments with constitutional status in a federal order. This provision was recycled from the failed federal 2002 First Nations Governance Act, which was rejected by most First Nations.

Governments of settler states have a most difficult time accepting responsibility for actions that violated the rights of Indigenous peoples, and in particular with acknowledging that the state itself is built on an expropriated base of Indigenous territories, sovereignties and resources. In Canada, reconciliation initiatives have been focused on a few high-profile historical errors, such as the residential school policy, the criminalization of Indigenous religious practices, the forced relocation of certain Inuit communities and the incarceration and state execution of Indigenous resistance leaders in the 1885 Metis and Indian resistance to colonial occupation of their lands. It has not been applied to the intergenerational consequences of these and related practices or to settler state positions and practices that continue colonialism today.

Moreover, reconciliation has not taken up the ideology, the structures and the processes that animated these and other fundamental human rights violations and that facilitate the contemporary continuance of those violations. In spite of the evident contradiction with its claims about the importance of the relationship with Indigenous peoples and the objective of reconciliation, the Trudeau government is hell-bent on continuing the Canadian tradition of appropriating Indigenous lands and resources and ignoring Indigenous dissent, including by ignoring the UNDRIP requirement for free, prior and informed consent over the use of unceded traditional Indigenous territories. Pipelines, anyone? MORE

Chiefs Announce National Day of Action Against Canada’s Termination Agenda

Canada continues to ignore First Nations’ land and inherent rights by pretending to have support for it’s 1969 white paper policy and pretending that the AFN speaks for First Nations’ peoples. As Canada shovels money and promises to the AFN while squeezing Indigenous communities, the Trudeau government’s policy of deception provokes a National Day of Action.

Image result for Okimaw Henry LewisChiefs, activists vow to fight what they call Trudeau’s ‘White Paper 2.0’ plan

Okimaw Henry Lewis stated, “Canada must STOP hidden agendas with First Nations.”

Treaty No. 6, 7 and 8, MASKWACIS, AB, May 6, 2019 /CNW/ – The Chiefs of Sovereign and Treaty Nations have consistently told Canada, “Nations don’t make laws for other Nations”.  Despite numerous attempts to work with the Federal Government, Canada continues to unilaterally develop laws and policies without our right to free, prior and informed consent.  “As sovereign Nations, treaty and title holders, I refuse to allow Canada to continue on with its genocidal laws and polices that are deliberately created to destroy our Nations and peoples.  No outside government will tell me how to exercise my Nations international right to self-determination in our sovereign treaty territory,” stated Alexander First Nation, Chief Kurt Burnstick.

Although Minister Bennett announced last week that Canada would not proceed with replacing the land and inherent rights policies that threaten our rights, the Chiefs of Sovereign and Treaty Nations are announcing the launch of a National Day of Action in the coming weeks to stop Canada’songoing termination agenda.  “Canada has never stopped trying to implement their 1969 white paper policy which is meant to domesticate our international Treaties, turn us into municipalities and remove us from our lands.  We must stand in unity as Chiefs and peoples to fight off this agenda for our children and future generations,” stated Onion Lake Cree Nation Okimaw Henry Lewis.     MORE

This is what Indigenous energy sovereignty looks like

A just transition case study


David Isaac, owner and CEO of W Dusk, stands on the roof of the Lower Nicola Indian Band school in Merritt, B.C. (Courtesy of David Isaac)

As the people of the land, air, and waters, Indigenous nations have been the first to feel the impacts of climate change. Just as we are at the front line of climate impacts, we must also be at the forefront of climate solutions. This is where Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) was born.

“We respect the sovereignty and the autonomy of Indigenous communities to determine what they need to do to address climate change,” Eriel Deranger, executive director of ICA and a Dene woman from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, tells me. “Indigenous Climate Action supports a growing movement of Indigenous climate justice leaders. This year, we are building up a Just Transition program because we see this as a critical component in supporting self-sufficiency and resiliency.”

Energy sovereignty means enabling Indigenous communities to own and operate our own energy systems; to use renewable and locally available energy sources like wind and solar; and to stop burning fossil fuels and stop relying on corporations for energy. These kinds of democratic energy systems are aligned with Indigenous cultures, knowledge, and land rights, and they increase the resiliency of Indigenous communities that have been negatively impacted by colonialism and capitalist resource extraction.

ICA is guided by a volunteer steering committee of Indigenous peoples stretching from Mi’kmaq to Dene and T’sou-ke country, and including the many territories in between. Twenty stewards, leaders, and change-makers carry out ICA’s mission to nurture an energy sovereignty movement from the ground up. MORE

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