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14 June 2024

Canada: Front Line Defenders joins international trial monitors in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en defenders

Front Line Defenders will join an international delegation to Smithers, British Columbia (B.C.) to observe the trial of three Indigenous Wet’suwet’en human rights defenders (HRDs) when it reopens on 17 June.

In January 2024, Sleydo’ (also known as Molly Wickham, of the Wet’suwet’en Nation), Shaylynn Sampson (a Gitxsan woman with Wet'suwet'en family ties) and Corey Jayohcee Jocko (who is Mohawk), were found guilty of criminal contempt for breaking a court order forbidding them from blocking access to the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The 670-kilometre pipeline, planned to carry natural gas across northern B.C. to a terminal in Kitimat, is being built on unceded ancestral territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, without their free, prior and informed consent.

The three HRDs filed abuse-of-process applications arguing that their human rights were violated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) during their arrests and detention. The B.C. Supreme Court in Smithers will continue to hear their applications starting on 17 June.“This is a clear case of criminalisation of Indigenous land defenders, merely for exercising their rights as Indigenous peoples and the freedom of assembly. We are here to hopefully see this injustice being corrected,” said Sandra Patargo, Protection Coordinator for the Americas at Front Line Defenders, who is part of the delegation in Smithers.“Authorities in British Columbia can’t just ride roughshod over the rights of Indigenous peoples in the name of profit. The pipeline project is removing Indigenous peoples from their homelands, damaging the natural environment and threatening the cultural heritage of the Wet’suwet’en.”The Wet’suwet’en Nation has welcomed the presence of the international trial monitors.

“The trials are prosecuting Indigenous people simply for protecting clean air, clean land and our right to be free,” said Hereditary Chief Na’Moks of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“The eyes of the world are on these trials. If [the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] is to be respected, all the charges should be dropped immediately. It is not illegal to protect what is best for everyone.”

In addition to Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International representatives from several countries will be in Smithers to monitor the trials. Several UN Special Rapporteurs – focused on Human Rights Defenders, on Indigenous Rights and on Access to Water – have also been following the case.

An Amnesty International report published in December 2023 looked into the unlawful use of force amid four large-scale Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raids on Wet’suwet’en territory. It found that Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters were arbitrarily detained for peacefully defending their land against the construction of the pipeline and exercising their Indigenous rights and their right of peaceful assembly.

Beyond the current case, five Wet’suwet’en defenders detained in March 2023 and charged with criminal contempt for allegedly violating the terms of the injunction are waiting for their trial dates to be set. In February, Likhts’amisyu Clan Wing Chief Dtsa’hyl was found guilty of criminal contempt for violating the terms of the injunction order and will be sentenced in July 2024. The B.C. Prosecution Service is requesting jail time.According to Front Line Defenders’ Global Analysis 2023-24, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights was the most-targeted area of human rights defence in the Americas region last year, accounting for 28.8% of cases documented against HRDs. Front Line Defenders is urging the Canadian authorities to immediately drop all charges against human rights defenders Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), Shaylynn Sampson and Corey Jayochee Jocko, as it is believed that they are solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.Background

Front Line Defenders is an international human rights organisation established in Ireland in 2001, with the specific aim of protecting the most at-risk human rights defenders around the world. Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham) joined the organisation’s Dublin Platform 2022.

For additional context on the trial, please see this Urgent Appeal.