Human rights matter: In Ukraine, and in Wet’suwet’en

Canada’s hypocrisy on full display during Russian invasion
Amber Bracken
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The world is watching in horror as a sovereign and democratic country is violently invaded by one of the most powerful armies on the planet. For anyone who believes in the principles of freedom, peace and human rights, Russia’s bombing of Ukraine is unquestionably wrong.

The Ukrainian people have responded with valour and are fighting back, because they love their country, culture, land and liberty. Men and women of all ages, many of whom have never operated a gun, are stepping up to fight. They’re willing to die for their homelands.

Canada is a hypocrite, guilty of human rights violations within its own borders.

Many of us are inspired by the tenacity of the people of this proud nation, and are cheering them on from a distance. While many members of the international community are imposing sanctions in an attempt to weaken Russia’s economy and shame and isolate it into submission, they are also providing arms for Ukraine to use in defence.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into the invasion of Ukraine, citing a “reasonable basis” for believing that Russia has committed war crimes. The ICC, established in 1998, exists to try individuals charged with the “gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and multiple elected federal government officials have unanimously condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified” Russian invasion. Trudeau denounced the “large-scale military aggression by Russia against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine” in a February 26 statement, and went on to praise the “courage and resolve” of Ukrainian leaders for standing their ground.

But Canada is a hypocrite, guilty of human rights violations within its own borders.

There has been an ongoing invasion of Wet’suwet'en territory in Northern British Columbia for years.

It’s a mountainous wildland where Wet’suwet’en people have walked for millennia. It has never been ceded. But Canada and the province of British Columbia claimed it for their own after establishing a colonial dynasty of domination.

The state enacted oppressive laws to justify genocidal actions. Herding Indigenous Nations into concentration camps called “reserves,” Canada attempted to starve them and stop them from leaving. It kidnapped Indigenous children across the country and shipped them to abusive houses of assimilation called “residential schools,” where thousands died.

Then, it prospered off of these stolen lands and resources and forbade the First Peoples from speaking their languages and practising their cultures.

Canada touts its vision of reconciliation to the world as righting the wrongs of the past. But the wrongs are continuing.

As if this wasn’t enough, the hungry beast of colonialism has continued its relentless destruction by way of industrial development and the razing of Indigenous lands for pipelines supporting exports to foreign countries.

Thankfully, traditional leadership systems have managed to stay intact in Wet’suwet’en territory despite state attempts to eradicate them. The Wet’suwet’en have retained their language, cultural teachings, traditions and governance systems, which form the backbone of their resistance against the unwanted intrusions of pipeline company Coastal GasLink and police.

When they fight back for their lands, waters and right to exist, they’re met with armies of federal police.

Resistance camps have been raided multiple times by troops of RCMP officers with AK-47 rifles, sniper guns and attack dogs. Land defenders have been encircled by helicopters. That is warfare.

The land defenders, like the people of Ukraine, stood their ground. Unarmed, and peaceful. Mothers, determined to protect the health of their lands for their children, were arrested at gunpoint and jailed.

Coastal GasLink has shown no regard for the human rights and sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en, who don’t want a pipeline on their lands. The company is backed by a court injunction, colonial governments and police resources as they clear out the troublesome Natives. They justify their actions and circumvent issues of consent by referring to support from chiefs and councils elected under the Indian Act. But the authority of these figures is limited to reserve boundaries and doesn’t extend to the traditional territory. Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that it is the hereditary leadership of the Wet’suwet’en, not the band councils on reserves, that hold rights and title to their traditional territories.

In 2019 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination determined that Canada needed to make changes in compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and urged the country to “immediately halt the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en people, until they grant their free, prior and informed consent, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.” The committee further urged Canada not to use force against the Wet’suwet’en.

A report from Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada highlights the country’s legal obligations to adhere to the UN committee’s decision. It also states that Canada “has acted inconsistently with the rule of law” and “has persistently failed to comply with its International Human Rights obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding their lands and territories.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg of human rights violations committed by Canada. Racism and hate toward Indigenous people is rampant here, so much so that many are dying due to suicide, poverty and substandard health care. It’s a living nightmare and it shouldn’t be happening in a so-called peaceful, democratic country that champions human rights.

Canada touts its vision of reconciliation to the world as righting the wrongs of the past. But the wrongs are continuing. Canada is neither ready to face this truth, nor does it want the world to know the extent of it.

But Indigenous voices are being heard now and the veil of secrecy is being lifted. The graves of Indigenous children were shown to the world last summer. In the aftermath of those horrific discoveries we saw for the first time in the hearts of Canadians and those around the world that they saw our people as valuable: as human beings worthy of a chance to live as who they are.

I’m rooting for Ukraine because they have every right to exist as a sovereign nation and defend themselves from the tyrannies of evil. Every Indigenous person knows this fight for freedom.

The question that remains is why Canada allows this ongoing war against Indigenous Peoples?

If Canada supports the sovereignty of Ukraine and the freedoms of democracy, it should ditch the double standards and support the Wet’suwet’en and other sovereign Indigenous Nations’ right to exist.

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