Honourable John Horgan Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan
Premier of British Columbia Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Parliament Buildings “E” Division
Victoria, BC 14200 Green Timbers Way
V8V 1X4 Surrey, B.C. V3T 6P3
April 27, 2020
Dear Premier Horgan and Deputy Commissioner Strachan,
Amnesty International is writing this Open Letter to share our concerns and urge the provincial government and the RCMP to take effective and decisive action in response to an attack carried out against the Tiny House Warriors camp on April 19, 2020. The Tiny House Warriors camp is located near Blue River, in unceded Secwepemc territory in the interior of British Columbia. Indigenous land and human rights defenders have maintained a full-time presence there since July 2018, to uphold collective sovereignty and jurisdiction in opposition to the ongoing expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and construction of associated work camps.
At this time, we are writing to you jointly as we consider both the provincial government and the RCMP to have important responsibilities in responding to this incident so as to ensure that:
- the police investigation that is underway is conducted in a manner that will have the full confidence of the Tiny House Warriors and of Secwepemc leadership;
- appropriate measures of protection requested by the Tiny House Warriors to guard against further attacks are instituted; and
- through public statements and other means, it is made clear that attacks against Indigenous, land, environmental and human rights defenders will not be tolerated and that the government and RCMP recognize and welcome the important role that defenders play in the province.
Amnesty International has been able to conduct interviews with individuals familiar with the incident, including an eyewitness, and to review a range of publicly available materials.
On April 19, at approximately 10:45 pm, Kanahus Manuel, a Secwepemc land defender, and a male Indigenous land defender who were in the Tiny House Warriors camp heard a noise suggestive of a disturbance outside. Three men and one woman had forcefully driven off-road vehicles through a number of large signs and banners that mark the camp’s entrance.
The three men, who were demonstrably aggressive, tore down several red dresses set up at the camp as a tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people, before physically attacking the male Indigenous land defender. Kanahus Manuel had turned on the high beams of her truck to illuminate the attackers but feared for her safety and ran for cover to one of the larger tiny houses. One of the intruders got into her truck, where the keys were still in the ignition, and drove it at high speed into the house in which she had sought refuge. The impact shook the home substantially, causing Kanahus Manuel to fall and knocking numerous items onto the floor. She had been shining a light from the window to make it evident that she was inside. The intruder then drove the truck into a telephone pole.
Throughout the attack, Kanahus Manuel and the intruders had verbal exchanges, some of which were recorded on her phone and included misogynistic and racist comments. The incident lasted about 25 minutes. As soon as the intruders left the camp Kanahus Manuel began contacting family, friends and allies for assistance.
Amnesty International is very concerned about the violence, threats and property damage that occurred and more generally about the menacing nature of the attack. The impact of this attack is heightened given the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents of the Tiny House Warriors camp have been diligent about implementing physical-distancing and other measures in response to the virus and are very disturbed that the individuals who carried out this attack did so in total disregard of those protective restrictions.
We are aware that there is an RCMP investigation underway. We urge and expect that those responsible for the investigation will consider the likelihood that this may be a hate crime. We are also aware of tensions that exist between the Tiny House Warriors and the RCMP due to past arrests of residents of the camp and their supporters. In this context, it will be important that the investigation proceed in a manner that builds the trust and confidence of the Tiny House Warriors and Secwepemc leadership.
Tiny House Warriors land defenders and First Nations leadership have emphasized to Amnesty International that they remain very fearful about the possibility of further incidents of this nature. In such circumstances, governments have a responsibility to take steps to provide reasonable measures of effective protection that are requested by human rights defenders. We urge the government to discuss appropriate protection measures with the Tiny House Warriors community and with First Nations leadership.
The urgency of a strong response to this incident is all the greater as it is part of an ongoing history of harassment, intimidation, attacks and virulent online threats against the Tiny House Warriors. More widely it reflects growing concerns about vilification, threats and attacks against human rights defenders in Canada, particularly women and Indigenous rights defenders, actively engaged in campaigns and awareness building with respect to Indigenous land rights and the climate impact of the oil and gas industry. Amnesty International has, in fact, frequently reported that this pattern of attacks against human rights defenders is increasing throughout the Americas.
Amnesty International wrote to you, Premier Horgan, alongside Prime Minister Trudeau and all other provincial and territorial Premiers, on March 5, 2020, drawing attention to the worsening pattern of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in Canada and urging that governments across the country take individual and collective steps to provide more visible support and protection to defenders. We also wrote to Premier Kenney on September 10, 2019, noting concerns that the tone and nature of various aspects of his government’s “fight back strategy” would expose human rights defenders to greater risks. Notably it is reported that individuals involved in this recent attack against the Tiny House Warriors camp may have been driving vehicles with Alberta license plates.
Incidents of this sort cannot be allowed to proliferate, and the nature of the threats and violence most certainly cannot be allowed to build. The BC government’s obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, implemented provincially through the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, as well as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are at stake.
We urge the government of British Columbia and the RCMP to respond decisively to this incident in a manner that demonstrates full recognition of the important role played by Indigenous, land and environmental human rights defenders in the province and sends a strong message that attacks and threats against them will not be tolerated.
Amnesty International Canada