Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach is rejecting calls for police action against supporters of the Wet’suwet’en, as blockades on CN lines across the country for almost two weeks have cut or deeply impacted services and business across a multitude of sectors.
In an emergency debate in the House of Commons last night, the NDP MP said last year’s arrests of 14 supporters of the hereditary chiefs on the Morice West Forest Service Road, as well as last month’s arrest of more than 20 in the same area, shows police action has only galvanized sympathy for the protests, and for Indigenous rights in general across Canada.
“We have landed at a place where the only way out of this crisis is through dialogue, understanding, humility and true nation-to-nation talks.”
Hereditary chiefs in the Wet’suwet’en oppose the natural-gas pipeline through their traditional territory, although it’s received approval from the five elected band councils. The hereditary chiefs argue the elected councils do not have authority under traditional law to approve such projects outside reserve lands.
They have also criticized the legitimacy of the consultation process with elected councils as it was not a nation-to-nation dialogue, but instead facilitated by a corporation.
Bachrach outlined historic displacements of the Wet’suwet’en carried out by the RCMP and sympathized with the symbolism of police presence on their traditional territory today.
“The images of RCMP tactical teams pointing rifles at unarmed Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan people, the images of Indigenous people being dragged over the very land their ancestors once walked, and the vicious racist social media commentary we have seen online in recent days and weeks have sparked a solidarity movement the likes of which our country has never seen.”
Indigenous support of the pipeline must be heard, he added, but the Indigenous people blockading the rail lines should not be dismissed as fringe radicals or anarchists he added, referring to comments by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer yesterday.
In response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech in the House of Commons earlier that morning, saying the protests mark a critical moment for Canada’s future in which the government is extending its hand in partnership and trust to Indigenous demonstrators, Scheer called the response “week and a failure of leadership.” Scheer asked the Prime Minister to denounce what he called radical activism.
Following up on that position yesterday, Conservative MP for Edmonton Mill Woods, Tim Uppal, challenged Bachrach to speak for the workers and small businesses of Canada, saying he heard no concern in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP’s speech for the First Nations communities that support the project and the jobs it will bring.
“Does the member not feel strongly that a few people should not be able to hold this country’s economy hostage with this illegal activity?” he asked.
Bachrach responded by highlighting his eight years as mayor of Smithers, saying he maintains a strong relationship with local First Nations. He gave his assurance that employment, economic development and prosperity is of utmost importance.
“We get there by working together and we get there in the spirit of respect.
“There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and none of that uncertainty contributes in a good way toward the kind of benefits that the member for Edmonton Will Woods is talking about. We need to get to a better place,” he said.
BQ MP Sebastien Lemire asked Bachrach how he would solve the crisis if he were Prime Minister.
Bachrach repeated his commitment to reconciliation with First Nations.
“The most important part of leadership is showing up and having the humility to sit down and talk about the difficult questions,” Bachrach said. “We could have seen this coming a decade ago, and now we are here, and finally the talks are happening,” he said, referring to the federal minister in charge of Indigenous relations, Carolyn Bennett’s, and her B.C. counterpart, Scott Fraser’s, proposal for a meeting with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. This morning however that offer was rejected until a mobile RCMP detachment near the protest site be removed from their territory.
While the RCMP have said their major operations in the region have concluded the RCMP have kept the mobile unit in place in order to conduct patrols of the corridor to “ensure everyone’s safety.”
In a statement today the RCMP said they are aware of the hereditary chiefs’ request and discussions are underway on next steps. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said during an emergency debate that “there is a clear path forward.”
– with files from Canadian Press