Fredericton/Unceded Wolastoq territory – On the eve of the Senate passing Harper’s anti-terrorist Bill C-51, dozens gathered at a cafe in Fredericton to hear three indigenous land defenders share their stories of being criminalized for defending their community’s land and water. The event was organized by the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network.
Crisanta Perez, a Mayan Mam mother and grandmother from the Western highlands of Guatemala, spoke of her community’s struggle against the Goldcorp Marlin mine, a Canadian-owned mine. Perez blames the mine for shortages in water, cracks in homes, health impacts and criminalization and violence against opponents.
Goldcorp has operated the Marlin gold and silver open-pit mine for over a decade in the San Marcos highlands.
Perez became a target for repression in 2008 when she damaged a power line to the mine that was placed on her property. She tried to get the company to remove the power installation on her small plot of land but the company ignored her requests so she said she was forced to take action. Eight women in her community, who became known as the Goldcorp 8, were charged with “obstructing the mine’s operations” when they came to her assistance. Two of the women faced charges for over two years before the charges were finally dropped.
The saddest moment in the struggle, Perez said, was when she was forced to leave her children when they were small to take refuge because she feared arrest. Separated from her children for six months, Perez came home and was taken into custody a month later but was freed by her community.
Charges against community leaders are seen as a strategy to burn out the community resistance.
Violent deaths are linked to more than one Goldcorp mine in Guatemala. Sixteen-year-old Topacio Reynosa, a youth organizer, was murdered in April 2014 in what many in her community believe was due to her opposition to the Escobal mine, which is partly owned by Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp.
Days before Perez spoke to audiences in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and communities in Atlantic Canada about how her community has been adversely affected by Goldcorp, the YWCA in Vancouver gave their Women of Distinction Award in the Outstanding Workplace category to Goldcorp on May 26.
According to the YWCA, the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards “honours individuals and organizations whose outstanding activities and achievements contribute to the well-being and future of our community, and also honours businesses and organizations that support the wellness and diverse needs of their employees.” In a statement announcing the award, the YWCA judges noted that “Goldcorp treats its people as its greatest asset.” Guatemala solidarity activists in Canada disagree.
Protests against Goldcorp’s activities have been protested in Toronto and Vancouver in recent years. “Goldcorp is Canada’s shame… We are all complicit so long as Goldcorp continues to operate with impunity in Guatemala,” stated Valerie Croft, a member of Amnesty International at one protest in Toronto in 2012.
Back at the Fredericton event, Annie Clair, the Elsipogtog mother and grandmother who is currently facing charges for her role in the blockade of SWN’s shale gas equipment in 2013, expressed sorrow and regret to Perez for being forced to spend months in refuge away from her children. Clair knows what it is like to be separated from her children. Her son, Junior Breau, was imprisoned for eight months following the RCMP raid on the Rexton camp against shale gas in October 2013.
Clair was cautious about what she could share about the criminalization that she has faced for her opposition to shale gas on Mi’kmaq territory because of her upcoming trial. She is pleading not guilty to charges that include mischief and resisting arrest. She will face the charges in a Moncton court on Sept. 21-24. The Fredericton event raised approximately $200 for her legal defense fund.
Ron Tremblay, a Wolastoqiyik elder from Tobique, shared his experiences getting arrested for his role in blocking a SWN shale gas truck in Mi’kmaq territory in June 2013 as well as his time in Oka in 1990.
A 29-year-old Tremblay joined a convoy from his community to support the Mohawks when they were under siege for resisting a golf course expansion on their territory.
While en route to Oka, Tremblay said his convoy was stopped, surrounded and held by armed police in Levis, Quebec. They eventually made it to Oka where Tremblay recalled a a military officer pointed a gun into his forehead after he told the officer to stop pointing his gun at a woman holding a sign that said, “Go fight a real war.” Tremblay remarked, “It was all over a 9-hole golf course.”
Tremblay and others with the newly formed Peace and Friendship Alliance have been vocal opponents to Bill C-51, which passed the Canadian Senate by 44 votes to 28 on June 9. The bill will become law after receiving Royal Assent from the Governor-General.
The Oka Crisis is only one example of how indigenous people in Canada on the front lines of resistance to development in their territories have been attacked by the police and spied on with reasons of being suspected threats to public security and terrorists.
The 63-page omnibus Bill C-51 gives increased powers to CSIS, Canada’s intelligence agency, to spy on citizens who it believes are threats and it gives the agency the power to disrupt the activities of their targets.
Indigenous land defenders and environmental activists on the front lines of resistance to oil pipelines, shale gas and mines fear the consequences of the new law but say they remain firm in their resolve to defend the land, water, air, climate and people.
A new campaign, Kill Bill C-51, has been launched and is expected to be a topic of discussion during the federal election campaign. The Conservative and Liberal parties supported the Bill while the Opposition NDP opposed it.
Tracy Glynn is a news writer and editor with the NB Media Co-op.