Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says more talk is needed to solve the ongoing conflict between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
Singh made the comments Wednesday at a news conference in Ottawa.
Reporters asked Singh about British Columbia’s recent commitment to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), whether he supports the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project, and whether the RCMP should stand down.
Singh called the situation “concerning,” but added that “the vast majority” of elected First Nations officials and communities along the proposed route support the project.
“So in terms of Indigenous sovereignty there is a very clear voice that people want the project. In Wet’suwet’en there is also a lot of complexity around what the community wants. There’s lots of folks that are in favour of the project. There’s the hereditary chiefs who’ve raised their concerns. This is something that has to be decided by the Indigenous community, and I think that they should be supported to have those dialogues, to have that conversation. There seems to be a vast overwhelming majority of community members in the Wet’suwet’en territory that have expressed their support.”
Singh said he’s most concerned about the possibility of the Mounties using violence to enforce an interlocutory injunction against anyone restricting access to pipeline construction sites.
CGL has signed benefit agreements with 20 elected First Nations governments along the proposed route. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say the project requires their consent since it passes through traditional, unceded territory.
“I don’t want to see a situation where there’s violence that’s escalating against Indigenous people. This is wrong and this has happened in the past and we need to be vigilant that it doesn’t happen again, and that’s where my focus is.”
He said the RCMP “should be careful,” but he stopped short of calling on the federal police force to stand down.
Singh also didn’t say whether he thinks John Horgan’s NDP government is living up to its commitment to implement UNDRIP.
“I think that the declaration and reconciliation are all very complex things, and I think we need to have a commitment to do the hard work,” he said in response, adding that he thinks there is a commitment to sit down and continue “dialogue.”
“The path we want to walk as a society, as a country, to reconciliation, to justice, to fairness is a difficult path but we need to walk it, and I’m committing as a national leader that we need to bring in the declaration federally to make sure that our decisions are also guided by that decision at the federal level. And it’s going to be a tough path to walk down, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Singh’s comments came after the federal Green party called on the Trudeau Liberals to recall the RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territory.
“The fact that the RCMP have been sent in shows that this is a political failure on the part of the provincial and federal governments,” said B.C. Green MP Paul Manly in a press release issued Tuesday.
“The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs provided alternative routes to Coastal GasLink that would have been acceptable to them as a pipeline corridor. Coastal GasLink decided that it did not want to take those acceptable options and instead insisted on a route that drives the pipeline through ecologically pristine and culturally important areas.”
Manly is the Green MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith who visited with hereditary chiefs over the weekend.
“The federal and provincial governments’ actions demonstrate complete disrespect for the constitutional role of the hereditary chiefs in the management of their land,” said Green leader Elizabeth May. “British Columbia recently enacted new legislation in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This situation undermines the constitutional role played by the hereditary chiefs.
“The RCMP have been placed at the centre of a political battle, one which should be addressed immediately and respectfully through consultation.”