Several people arrested when RCMP raided a blockade on Wet’suwet’en territory in November 2021 are asking to have their charges stayed, alleging the police abused their power and used excessive force, according to court documents.
They were charged with criminal contempt for breaching an injunction to stay away from a construction zone for the multi-billion dollar Coastal GasLink pipeline, which Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say does not have consent to cross their territory, about 780 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
Twelve people filed proceedings Feb. 6 in B.C. Supreme Court to have charges stayed.
“The police conduct here was so egregious that the prosecution should come to an end,” said Frances Mahon, the lawyer representing the 12 accused.
The B.C. Prosecution Service said it could not comment on the applications to stay proceedings because the matter is before the court.
RCMP said it would be inappropriate to comment on a court application.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Mahon said the RCMP and private security firm that conducted the raids “impaired the applicant’s individual Charter rights” showing “systemic disregard for Indigenous rights and sovereignty.”
The filing asks that if the criminal contempt charges aren’t stayed that it would be appropriate to reduce the applicant’s sentence based on the treatment of the accused by the police.
The stay applications will go before the court on March 8 in Smithers, B.C. to see if they will move forward, said Mahon.
One of the applicants is Shaylynn Sampson, a Gitxsan woman with Wet’suwet’en family ties, who was arrested at gunpoint in a tiny house on Gidimt’en territory for allegedly breaching the injunction, according to her stay application.
“I think it’s important to know the extent of the harm that the RCMP caused while we were in custody,” said Sampson.
Sampson said when she was in custody, cultural regalia of the land defenders were removed, racist comments were made to them by police comparing Indigenous women to monsters, and they were denied COVID-19 masks and food and water for up to eight hours while under arrest.
Conditions of Sampson’s release allow her to enter an area called the “exclusion zone” — on her traditional territory— only for hunting, fishing, trapping and other cultural activities.
Sampson said she has PTSD from interactions with police since the arrest, and said she was threatened “multiple times” with arrest after going back to her territory.
“We continue to fight for the pipeline to not be built,” she said.