In response to an open letter addressed to Commissioner Govender from the First Nations LNG Alliance, dated January 19 2020, the Commissioner issued the following letter.
The Commissioner’s statement of January 10, 2020 is in line with Resolution no, 2019-07 of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), expressing support for the principle of free, prior and informed consent as it applies to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and her concern for the elevated risk of violence facing demonstrators is echoed in the January 16, 2020 statement by the First Nations Leadership Council.
January 23, 2020
To Karen Ogen-Toews and the First Nations LNG Alliance,
Thank you for the open letter dated January 19, 2020. Your letter raises some of the challenges of communicating on this complex and evolving human rights situation. I am grateful for the opportunity it gives me to clarify my initial statement dated January 10, 2020.
To be clear, I have full knowledge of the 20 band councils along the Coastal Gaslink route that have consented to this project. My statement highlights that, just as these bands have the right to give their consent, other Indigenous rights holding groups impacted by resource projects proposed on their territories also have the right to withhold their consent.
As BC’s Human Rights Commissioner, contrary to any misrepresentations that have circulated since the release of my statement, I take no position on whether these projects should move forward. I am compelled to speak when any project contravenes domestic and international human rights principles in its implementation. In terms of human rights law, the band council agreements do not change the critical points raised by my statement:
- the need for these projects to fulfill the requirement of free, prior, and informed consent, and
- the need for the situation unfolding on Wet’suwet’en territories to find a peaceful solution.
As signatories to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Canada and all its levels of government have international obligations. It is my legislated mandate and responsibility to uphold these laws. My duty is not to side with the majority, but to ensure the principle of free, prior, and informed consent is upheld for all rights holders.
Human rights are not a numbers game. Human rights do not exist only for the majority. They exist for each individual, and in the case of free, prior, and informed consent for each Indigenous rights holding group. Indeed, human rights are the hardest to guarantee for those who find themselves in an unpopular minority, but this is precisely when our commitment to human rights principles is truly needed.
Media coverage about last year’s RCMP enforcement action on Wet’suwet’en territory has reported that policing authorities were prepared to use lethal force. There are many options for what happens next on Wet’suwet’en territory, but what is not an acceptable solution is that we should find ourselves in the midst of a militarized police action that threatens the lives and safety of demonstrators. Peaceful protestors should not be met with state violence. This is a fundamental human rights principle that is the duty of the Human Rights Commissioner to uphold.
The relationship between the government, Canadians, and Indigenous peoples of this land will outlast all these projects. It is my position that our commitment to these fundamental principles of reconciliation and human rights must be our first consideration.
I would welcome the opportunity to speak further over the phone. Please let me know if you would like to do so, and we can set that up.
BC’s Human Rights Commissioner