Wet’suwet’en Defendants Allege Charter Violations
PRINCE GEORGE, BC -- A dozen Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters have applied to the Supreme Court of British Columbia to have criminal contempt charges stayed in light of widespread Charter violations stemming from police misconduct.
Alleging an “abuse of process,” the court applications highlight the RCMP’s “disproportionate and excessive use of force” against peaceful land defenders during a series of militarized police raids in November of 2021. In violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the applications allege that arrestees were variously denied their right to security of person, subjected to unreasonable search and seizure, arbitrarily detained and imprisoned, and denied reasonable bail without just cause.
“The RCMP/CIRG’s enforcement tactics impaired the Applicant’s individual Charter rights, but the police misconduct also displays a systemic disregard for Indigenous rights and sovereignty and the Charter more generally,” the court filings state.
The applications are grounded in Wet’suwet’en law and sovereignty, situating the arrests within a larger context of Wet’suwet’en-Canadian relations. Each arrest took place on the unceded lands of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. Defendants acted under the lawful authority of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs to uphold decisions made collectively by the nation in its governance hall (bahlats) to protect unceded Wet’suwet’en lands and waters.
“The Wet’suwet’en have asserted a right to live on and protect their territories for thousands of years, primarily through the feast hall governance system carried out communally by its clans and house groups,” the application states. “The impacts of the manner of enforcement are not limited to the individuals arrested, but extend to the efforts at reconciliation between the Wet’suwet’en and the federal and provincial governments,” it continues.
In a 2020 Memorandum of Understanding, the governments of Canada and British Columbia recognized the Wet’suwet’en hereditary system as “a legitimate government with title” to 22,000km2 of unceded land. Despite this, the RCMP have repeatedly undertaken large scale, violent invasions of Wet’suwet’en traditional territories and have established a sustained campaign of surveillance, intimidation, and harassment, which is currently the subject of a separate lawsuit by Wet’suwet’en members.
“Society is rightly concerned with how a special unit of RCMP (C-IRG) acts with impunity, using racist language and violence against unarmed indigenous women. Now it's in the courts hands to decide if this is still acceptable in 2023,” says Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, spokesperson for the Gidimt’en Checkpoint and one of the twelve defendants seeking a stay of criminal contempt charges.