On May 27, 2020, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Afro-Indigenous woman, suffered a horrific death during an interaction with Toronto police. Just eight days later, Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was killed by New Brunswick police during another police interaction, dubiously referred to in the media as a “wellness check.” These devastating incidents are the latest in the countless acts of state violence targeting Black and Indigenous people in Canada, and are part of a broader longstanding history of white-supremacist colonial oppression. These incidents also occur in the context of a long history of fatalities in encounters between police and people experiencing mental distress.
We are outraged and grief-stricken over these egregious injustices, and so many others. To our Black and Indigenous community members: we cry, rage, and stand with you.
As an organization committed to the dismantling of oppressive systems, the Law Union strongly urges its white and non-Black/non-Indigenous members to reflect deeply on privilege, positionality and complacency, and commit to taking action against anti-Black/anti-Indigenous racism and lethal policing of people in mental distress. As Dr. Angela Davis generously teaches us, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”
Taking action can take many forms, both short and long term. In the short term, it involves exerting pressure on governments and institutions to take these tragedies seriously, as the details of what happened will not come to light unless we demand them collectively. It involves contacting elected representatives and civil servants to demand transparency and accountability. It could mean attending (safely) a protest. We highlight the demands brought forth by the organizers of the protest in Toronto on May 30th: an independent investigation into the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, oversight of the SIU, and charges brought to the officers involved. It could also involve direct economic support for the families of Chantel Moore (https://gf.me/u/x656jt), Regis Korchinski-Paquet (https://gf.me/u/x489am) and/or groups on the front lines fighting for justice for Black and Indigenous peoples, and other peoples of colour (e.g. https://blacklivesmatter.ca/donate/; https://www.blacklegalactioncentre.ca/;
In the long term, crucially, taking action must include an unwavering commitment to the deliberate and constant deepening of one’s understanding of the oppressive structures that systematically privilege whiteness and ableness in our society, and the essential concurrent commitment to rip these structures down at every opportunity. One resource can be found here: https://www.shanisilver.com/home/2020/5/27/anti-racism-resources-for-my-white-friends-amp-readers
Let us take care of each other. Let us transform our anger and grief into solidarity and courage in the fight for Justice and a better world.
The Law Union of Ontario
The Law Union of Ontario (LUO) – Ontario’s coalition of progressive lawyers, law students, and legal workers – stands in solidarity with land defenders from the Wet’suwet’en nation and their Indigenous and settler allies across Turtle Island. The governments of Canada and British Columbia have failed to respect the national sovereignty and interests of the Wet’suwet’en nation and its peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent regarding pipeline construction across their territories. In so doing, these governments have ignored and obfuscated critical legal principles pronounced by the Supreme Court of Canada in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia and Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, and further failed to comply with their obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
We stand with the many defenders and protectors of ancestral lands, water, and spiritual, historic, and cultural resources at the Unist’ot’en camp and healing centre and the Gitdumt’en camp along the proposed energy corridor. In January 2019, Royal Canadian Mounted Police brutally and violently assaulted the camps and arrested 14 land defenders. Recently, the RCMP has again invaded and violently removed and arrested land protectors. In fact, Wet’suwet’en matriarchs were holding ceremony for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls when the RCMP moved in and attacked them. This type of action flies in the face of the calls to justice published after the culmination of national inquiry into MMIW that included recommendations to safeguard and facilitate access to culture and healing. Further, the link between resource extraction and violence against vulnerable community members such as women, girls, trans and two spirit people is well known. When man camps encroach on Indigenous territories they destroy the eco systems and the rates of violence against the local population escalates.
The Wet’suwet’en peoples are leading the fight for the future health of the land and all that occupy it and for future generations, as well as the broader fight around the full meanings of Indigenous sovereignty. The LUO highlights the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks’ statement in response to the proposed pipeline: “This proposed project endangers our promises to our grandchildren that we would look after our land, our culture, our people for them. We cannot break this promise to our grandchildren.”
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have tried to seek title under the colonial legal system when they were plaintiffs in the Delgamuukw case at the Supreme Court of Canada. After 13 years of court battles the Supreme Court of Canada directed the Canadian government that it had a moral obligation to embark upon good faith negotiations with them. It is not surprising that the Wet’suwet’en leaders seek to have Indigenous law respected since Canadian law has failed them.
The LUO also highlights that in December 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued Early Warning and Urgent Action declarations to Canada regarding its approval of the Transmountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines and its refusal to consider the Wet’suwet’en right to free, prior, and informed consent as to any measure that may cause irreparable harm to their rights, culture, lands, territories, and way of life. The UN committee called upon Canada to immediately cease construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Coastal GasLink pipeline and cancel all permits until free, prior, and informed consent is obtained. It urged Canada to freeze all present and future approval of large-scale development projects affecting indigenous peoples that do not enjoy free, prior, and informed consent from all indigenous peoples affected. It further recommended that Canada incorporate free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples in its domestic legislation to bring it in compliance with its international human rights obligations and jurisprudence.
The LUO calls on Canada and British Columbia to respect the sovereign territory, rights, and laws of the Wet’suwet’en nation and of all First Nations. We further call upon governments to follow the direction of the Supreme Court of Canada and their obligations under the UNDRIP, the immediate and permanent halt of construction of any pipelines or other invasions of Indigenous lands without free, prior, and informed consent, and to work in good faith to bring all affected parties to the table and seek a negotiated solution.
The Law Union of Ontario