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səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/Tsleil-Waututh Territory (May 11th, 2022) – Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) is frustrated and dismayed with the 28-day jail sentence of Will George, a Tsleil-Waututh member, sentenced yesterday by the BC Supreme Court. Will George was acting in peaceful land defence against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project (TMX), a project that puts his ancestral lands and waters and community at significant risk. Mr. George was upholding his sacred obligation to protect Tsleil-Waututh lands & waters. Justice Fitzpatrick provided Mr. George with the same sentence as non-Indigenous opponents of TMX, conflating environmental concerns and stakeholder rights with those of Indigenous rights, title and sovereignty.
Canadian Courts have mechanisms such as the Gladue Report to recognize Indigenous rights and the unique and devastating legacy of racism and colonisation experienced by Indigenous people in Canada. Where other Courts in the Province have given weight to Gladue principles, the BC Supreme Court ruling, through Justice Fitzpatrick, did not appear to factor in Mr. George’s sentencing. In the hearing, Justice Fitzpatrick revealed that she did not even know where Tsleil-Waututh Nation was located. The Courtroom is located in the heart of TWN’s shared territory, as is TMX. The terminus of the pipeline is directly across from the TWN reserve; TWN members watch its construction from their living room windows.
The Trans Mountain Pipeline is being constructed without the consent of TWN. Tsleil-Waututh’s decision to withhold consent follows from an assessment Tsleil-Waututh undertook of the impacts the Project poses to the community, lands, waters and resources, in accordance with our Stewardship Policy. Tsleil-Waututh’s impact assessment, released in 2015, was informed by scientific reports from world-leading experts and Tsleil-Waututh Indigenous knowledge. The Assessment concluded that the project poses significant risk to Tsleil-Waututh and our inherent and constitutionally protected rights, title and interests.
The core question before the court was whether Mr. George was in contempt of court by ignoring or breaching an injunction. In doing so, the court argued, he put the respect of the court into disrepute. Yet the court admitted ignorance to the territories it sits within, it failed to consider Tsleil-Waututh’s continued use and occupation of this area, it ignored Tsleil-Waututh members’ Indigenous rights, including the right and obligation to protect the lands and waters, nor did it refer to the Indigenous legal orders that the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized as relevant and valid. Further, the courts failed to recognize that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project poses an existential threat to Will George’s people, his First Nation, and their way of life.
Just this week the United Nations High Commission on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reprimanded Canada for a third time for its failure to obtain Indigenous consent for pipeline projects, for forcibly evicting Indigenous peoples from their territory, and for criminalizing Indigenous land defenders. The United Nations found Canada violated its commitment to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The arrest and sentencing of Will George for standing peacefully for his rights goes against TWN law, international law, and Canada’s own UNDRIP law. There is no reconciliation without meaningful action.
TWN Chief Jen Thomas:
“This sentence is a continuation of a long history of British Columbia criminalising Indigenous people for defending their territory. Sentencing an Indigenous man to four weeks in prison for peacefully defending the territory is a disproportionate response and contributes to the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. This is not justice. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation stands with Will George.”
Reuben George, Sacred Trust Spokesperson:
“Tsleil-Waututh law tells us we have an obligation to protect and defend our land, water, and territory so that future generations of Tsleil-Waututh people can thrive. Will George is a protector, not a protestor. The Trans Mountain pipeline poses an existential threat to the Tsleil-Waututh people, which the court failed to recognize. This ruling is gravely concerning.”
“This is part of the colonial system: the whole system has been in support of industry, from the National Energy Board’s recommendation to approve TMX, to how Canada has disregarded Tsleil-Waututh’s scientifically-rigorous assessment of project impacts, to Will George’s hearing. This is a racist and colonial system.”
About the Sacred Trust Initiative
The Sacred Trust is an initiative of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN). Its mandate is to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project. The federal and provincial governments recently approved the project without TWN’s consent. The Sacred Trust Initiative is grounded in TWN’s culture, spirituality, and law. TWN has a sacred, legal obligation to protect, defend, and steward the water, land, air, and resources in their territory. To learn more about the Sacred Trust Initiative, visit twnsacredtrust.ca
About Tsleil-Waututh Nation
Tsleil-Waututh Nation is a Coast Salish Nation whose territory centres around Burrard Inlet in the greater Vancouver region. Tsleil-Waututh have a Sacred Trust, a responsibility, to care for and restore traditional territory to its former state. Today, Tsleil-Waututh is more than 600 people strong and growing. The community draws on knowledge from ancestors to remedy past wrongs, reclaim territory and traditions, and advance into a bright future. For more information on the Tsleil-Waututh Nation visit twnation.ca
Tsleil-Waututh Nation Communications