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Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in Canada, Documents Reveal

Energy
First Nations Pipeline Protest: 14 Land Protectors Arrested as Canadian Police Raid Indigenous Camp

Canadian police discussed shooting indigenous protesters who were trying to stop a natural gas pipeline from being built on their land, documents reported by The Guardian Friday revealed.


On Jan. 7, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) armed with assault rifles arrested 14 land defenders when they cleared a checkpoint set up by the Wet'suwet'en nation to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline on their unceded territory in northern British Columbia (B.C.). Now, the documents obtained by The Guardian show that, in a strategy session before the raid to clear the road, RCMP argued that "lethal overwatch is req'd," meaning they wanted to use snipers.

RCMP higher-ups also told their officers to "use as much violence toward the gate as you want." Police were ready to arrest both children and grandparents, and one document mentioned the possibility of sending children to social services. Historically, the RCMP forcibly removed indigenous children from their homes to place them in residential schools.

"Here we are, nearly 2020 and we are still being threatened with violence, death, and the removal of our children for simply existing on our lands and following our laws," Sleydo', or Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt'en Checkpoint protesters who was arrested herself in January, said in a statement reported by The Georgia Straight.

Coastal GasLink is owned by TC Energy, the company formerly known as TransCanada Pipelines, which is also the driving force behind the Keystone XL pipeline opposed by indigenous groups in both the U.S. and Canada. CGL is set to run 670 kilometers (approximately 416 miles) from northeastern B.C. to a liquid natural gas facility in Kitimat that is yet to be constructed.

The company gained permission from elected First Nation councils along the pipeline route, but the hereditary Wet'suwet'en leaders oppose pipeline construction on their land. Since the Wet'suwet'en never surrendered their territories to the Canadian government, they argue that their hereditary leaders should have final say.

"This project aims to blaze a trail, in what has been envisioned as an energy corridor through some of the only pristine areas left in this entire region," a Wet'suwet'en media statement explained. "If CGL were to be built and become operational, it would irreversibly transform the ecology and character of Northern B.C. This is why the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs have all unanimously opposed the construction of ALL pipelines through their territory."

The Wet'suwet'en first established a camp called Unist'ot'en in 2009 to fight pipelines in their territory, The Guardian explained. It was the first in a growing movement of indigenous encampments protesting fossil fuel infrastructure in North America. The indigenous nation is now waiting for a provincial supreme court to decide on an injunction sought by TC Energy that would ban indigenous protesters from blocking access to any pipeline construction sites.

The RCMP documents obtained by The Guardian led Canadian officials to voice concerns over the role the police play in clashes between fossil fuel companies and indigenous land defenders.

"There are a number of very deeply concerning words, phrases and terms used to a situation that is immensely delicate," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Friday, as CBC News reported. "This is something that we need to revise as a government and take a look at that, because the terminology is entirely unacceptable."

In another document reviewed by The Guardian, the police also said they needed to arrest demonstrators for the goal of "sterilizing the site."

RCMP Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said in a statement reported by CBC News that the police had been denied a request to review the documents, but said some of the phrases may have been taken out of context. The term "lethal overwatch," in particular, does not necessarily mean that police snipers would be deployed to shoot at protesters. They are often deployed to ensure public safety during parades and demonstrations.

"Police officers who occupy the position of lethal overwatch are tasked with observing, while other police officers are engaged in other duties which occupy attention," Shoihet said.

But indigenous leaders and their supporters questioned who the police, who cleared the site on the strength of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction obtained by TC Energy, are ultimately protecting. The protesters' lawyer Martin Peters said the police had acted as "security guards" for the company.

"I was shocked," Wet'suwet'an hereditary chief Hagwilnegh, also called Ron Mitchell, told CBC News. "[The RCMP] assured us that they were there to protect everyone, including us. That was the message we received from them. The question that comes to mind is, who are the RCMP working for? They weren't nice to our people, especially the elders."

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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