Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in Canada, Documents Reveal
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.
Nothing has changed in 150 years! They are willing to kill us for our lands and steal our children. We will never g… https://t.co/WC3HbkCOKD— Gidimt’en Checkpoint (@Gidimt’en Checkpoint)1576865882.0
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."
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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