Injunctions are not effective in Indigenous-led land disputes, legal experts say

As demonstrations continue across Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing a pipeline through their territory, legal experts suggest it’s time to reconsider how injunctions are employed when responding to Indigenous-led protests.

The protests began earlier this month when the RCMP moved into Wet’suwet’en territory to enforce a court injunction against opponents of Coastal GasLink’s natural gas pipeline development in northern British Columbia. A group of hereditary chiefs rejected the court’s decision on the company’s application, saying it contradicted Wet’suwet’en law.

As solidarity protests popped up on railways and roads across the country, other companies sought their own injunctions to remove the blockades, arguing the demonstrations were causing harm to business and to the Canadian economy.

St. John’s-based lawyer Mark Gruchy, who represents clients charged with breaching an injunction while protesting at the Muskrat Falls hydro site in Labrador in 2016, said Indigenous resistance to resource development is too complex an issue to be addressed through injunctions in their current form.

“It’s frustrating for me as a lawyer to watch, but I think there’s a relatively straightforward way to really take the edge off and to change the future,” Gruchy said from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where five of his clients had just been cleared of criminal charges related to the Muskrat Falls protest. Several other people still face trials or sentencing after being charged for the same incident.

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