In an exclusive report Friday that outraged human rights advocates worldwide, The Guardian revealed that Canadian police wanted snipers on standby for a January 2019 crackdown on Indigenous land defenders who were blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.
The Guardian reported on official records—documents as well as audio and video content—reviewed by the newspaper related to the police “invasion” that led to 14 arrests:
Indigenous land defenders established the Gidimt’en checkpoint—where the police operation took place—as part of a broader battle against pipeline builder TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada. The RCMP action was an attempt to enforce a court injunction that came in response to the Unist’ot’en camp established on Wet’suwet’en territory in opposition to the pipeline.
Guardian readers responded to the report with swift condemnation of the RCMP’s behavior.
“This is abhorrent and unconscionable,” tweeted Steve Wilcox, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. American author and journalist Michael Deibert summed up the revelations in one word: “Monstrous.”
Some critics highlighted how police conduct contrasted with the Canadian government’s truth and reconciliation efforts launched under Conservative former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and continued under the country’s current Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau.
Frances Moore, operations and national outreach manager at the Indigenous youth-led Canadian nonprofit group We Matter, wrote on Twitter that she is “saddened that it’s taking leaked documents from the RCMP for Canadians to believe” that police were prepared to show force against land defenders.
Specifically, according to The Guardian:
Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson (Howilhkat) connected the RCMP’s militarized approach to the early 2019 operation to a lengthy record of colonial violence.
“In our experience, since first contact, RCMP have been created by the federal government to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands,” Huson told The Guardian. “They have proven [that] through their harassment of my people to support Coastal GasLink in invading our territories.”
Although an RCMP spokesperson declined to comment on the specific content of the records reviewed by The Guardian, they told the newspaper that while planning the raid, police took into account the remote location and “the unpredictable nature of what we could face.”
The Guardian noted that its report came as the Wet’suwet’en camps are preparing for a court ruling on an injunction sought by TC Energy that would permanently restrict the Indigenous land protectors from blockading pipeline sites.