Land Defender criminalized for solidarity with Wet’suwet’en

Toronto police target and intimidate Indigenous Land Defenders, surveilling and traumatizing them for months after events.
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Media contacts:
Gary Wassaykeesic — 437-224-7432
Community Peacemaker Teams — 647-339-0991, canada@cpt.org

Toronto, Ontario, Canada —

Today, 3 March 2022, at 9:00 am, Canadian Pacific Police – Toronto Detachment required Indigenous Land Defender Gary Wassaykeesic to appear at the offices at 2025 McCowan Road, Scarborough, Ontario, for criminal identification following his arrest on 30 January 2022. In January, Gary Wassaykeesic was targeted, arrested, and charged by Toronto Police Service and the Canadian Pacific Police in connection with a Wet’suwet’en solidarity action on 21 November 2021. Months after the solidarity action, police targeted Wassaykesic following a vigil for the children of the 93 unmarked graves found at Williams Lake Residential School. Wassaykeesic first noticed police watching him while in the Eaton’s Center Food court, but they didn’t target him until he was alone on the streetcar where the Toronto Police entered the streetcar, handcuffed and arrested him. The targeting and intimidation of Indigenous Land Defenders by Toronto Police needs to stop!

Wassaykesic is a well-known Indigenous organizer. He has spent years advocating for residential schools and the 60’s Scoop survivors. Recently he has been leading actions alongside other Indigenous Land Defenders at Land Back Square (formerly Dundas Square). He has been instrumental in drawing connections of how colonization has led to the economic genocide of Indigenous people.

In November 2021, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) carried out a militarized raid on Wet’suwet’en Territory. Using axes, chainsaws, assault rifles, and attack dogs, the RCMP arrested over 30 people, including legal observers, journalists, Indigenous elders, and matriarchs who were defending their territory from the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline. This pipeline threatens the sacred waters of the Wedzin Kwa and is being shoved through at gunpoint without the consent of the Hereditary Chiefs.

The RCMP raids on Wet’suwet’en territory have resulted in solidarity actions across the nation and worldwide. Charges have been laid against a number of people in other cities. In Toronto, the police are employing a tactic of avoiding arrests at the action, but rather following organizers as they go about their lives and then arresting them when they are alone. Both the Toronto Police Service and the Canadian Pacific Police Service have been laying charges in Toronto.

“The Toronto Police stalked me, waited, and then arrested me, traumatizing me in the process. This has become the strategy of the Toronto Police. How many more others are they going to do this to?” said Gary Wassaykeesic, describing his experience. 

The RCMP, Toronto Police Service, the Canadian Pacific Police Service, and the Canadian state and industry continue to criminalize Indigenous Land Defenders who uphold their rights, protecting their lands and waters from industry and invasion. The Toronto Police Service’s harassment of Wassaykeesic by following him after attending a vigil for children who died in residential school and subsequently arresting him on public transportation should be condemned. Targeting of Indigenous Land Defenders needs to stop now!

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