Toronto, January 26th, 2022
The Technoscience Research Unit (TRU) is a collective of Indigenous scholars, community researchers, environmental and STS researchers, and land and water defenders dedicated to supporting environmental justice-oriented science and Indigenous Science and Technology Studies (STS). Members of the TRU are writing this statement collectively to publicly share where we stand with regard to the criminalization of Indigenous Land and Water Defenders across Turtle Island.
In September 2021, Global Witness reported that 227 activists working to protect the environment and the land around the world were killed. In Canada, Indigenous peoples are being targeted, arrested, and criminalized for defending our waters, lands, and communities, which is as true today just as it has been throughout the nation’s settler colonial history. We have learned through our work with local Indigenous communities that young people are being targeted for trumped up charges for protecting their lands and environment. Moreover, in Ontario and across the country, there have been numerous harassing arrests of Indigenous, Black, and racialized supporters of Wetʼsuwetʼen and 1492 Landback Lane, encampment sites, and gatherings concerned with the defunding, dismantling, and abolition of police and prisons with the aim of preventing further political organizing as a condition of the charges.
We want to remind the public that legality isn’t a guide to morality and that more than ever we need to entrench human rights, public speech, and peaceful protest as pillars for community building. We need to acknowledge the fact that corporate harms to land and life are legal while rebelling against it is criminalized. In contrast, we believe that to stand by and not stand up is against our fundamental responsibilities as people.
Canada’s Ongoing Criminalization of Environmental Justice Actions
Canada the #1 holder of mining concessions around the world, and responsible for some of the worst environmental offenders and human rights violations in the mining sector. Indigenous peoples around the world continue to protect their inherent rights, such as in Guatemala and Chile. Indigenous peoples maintain and protect 80% of global biodiversity. At a time when land defense is increasingly crucial for all beings, Indigenous peoples are persistently criminalized and endangered for this critically important work. We stand against the criminalization of land defense and environmental justice actions, which was made into policy and strategy by the Harper government and has been a continued practice with the current Liberal government. More recent state strategies include the intensification of militarized policing tactics and security force surveillance, including the increased use of legal injunctions to “protect” privatized “critical infrastructure,” such as pipelines and railways.
We name these tactics as part of a broad, systemic gaslighting operation, channeled through provincial policy such as Alberta’s Bill 1 or Manitoba’s Bill 57, that overextends legal powers to target and suppress the solidarity movements of organizers across the country. We assert the right and responsibility of standing with land defenders who are being targeted individually.
Private Companies Should Not Have the Power to Prosecute
While following many of the events concerning the death, arrest, or targeting of Indigenous land defenders and environmental justice community researchers, the role that the police play in the protection of private companies over people has become clearer. Private companies even have federally legalized police forces that get to police land defenders using the staff, infrastructure, and resources of police departments across Turtle Island. The Canadian Pacific (CP) Policeis a clear example of how structural colonialism builds environmental violence. Historically, the CP Police’s mission and infrastructure are rooted in colonialism and clearing lands of Indigenous jurisdiction for the establishment of the railroads on the prairies. Today, land and water defenders are charged, punished, and intimidated by CP police with few accountability mechanisms. CP police can decide who to charge, arrest and question, and what conditions of release to set, all in service of the company. Such intimidation tactics extend to members of the press who attempt to cover police intervention and violence against defense actions. CP Police Service and Toronto Police partner to harass and intimidate young land defenders at public demonstrations. The police work as colonializers in a permission to pollute system built on the Crown’s doctrine of discovery that violates treaty relationships, as well as unceded territories.
Resistance to environmental violence means resisting the profitability and growth of private companies that materialize colonial state projects. These state projects increasingly monetize democratic protest through using legal fees and increased ticket amounts as a way to discourage public participation in peaceful blockades. The Canadian state is negating any responsibilities towards “reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples by enabling and supporting companies to advance projects like CGL, with superficial requirements for environmental assessment and community consultation. Companies are therefore empowered to use private security means, which are also enforced with state police like the RCMP, against land defenders.
Profits Over People
A week before the 2015 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remarked that “There is no relationship more important to me – and to Canada – than the one with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit.” and yet all levels of police in Canada: municipal, provincial, federal—and private—continue to interfere with Indigenous peoples daily lives and their inherent and treaty rights to the land: We are targeted and threatened with police violence and prosecution on our own lands, which includes cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver. At the same time, violence in the form of pollution and extractivist economies permeate our air, land, and waters. In some communities, such as Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, home to the oldest refineries in the world, industry has valued its profits over and against living people and lands for over a century. In keeping with its long history of putting its relationship with industry before its relationship with Indigenous peoples, Canada continues to allow violations to Indigenous lives and lands.
The permissibility of private industry’s activities against Indigenous peoples and the lands and waters that they care for and protect is one example of Canada’s wide-reaching commitments to colonialism. In its poor attempts at reckoning with an ongoing failure to value the lives of Indigenous peoples, especially Indigenous children, girls, women, and 2-spirit people, Canada has served to reproduce the structures and systems that make racist and environmental violence possible in the first place. In practicing its relationships with Indigenous peoples as the official goal of “reconciliation,” the nation-state works to sanctify Canadian law while it disregards Indigenous law. Exercising police authority on Indigenous jurisdiction and enforcing Canadian law are decisions to prioritize colonial power and violence over Indigenous sovereignty.
Land protection is part of our traditional rights and responsibilities to the land as Indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere. When Indigenous peoples and their traditional relations to the land are the point and cause for prosecution, it is the responsibility of everyone who lives on the lands of Indigenous peoples to stand up and end colonial, racist, and politically-motivated attacks on Indigenous land defenders: reconciliation will not be found in courtrooms and it cannot continue to be forced at gunpoint. These continued practices of Canada forces assimilation to Canadian law at gunpoint.
Technoscience Research Unit