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Open letter urges Canadian leaders to support human rights defenders following explicit Greta Thunberg sticker

    March 11, 2020

    To: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Dwight Ball, Premier Caroline Cochrane, Premier Doug Ford, Premier Blaine Higgs, Premier John Horgan, Premier Jason Kenney, Premier Dennis King, Premier François Legault, Premier Stephen McNeil, Premier Scott Moe, Premier Brian Pallister, Premier Joe Savikataaq, Premier Sandy Silver

    March 5, 2020

    Dear Prime Minister and Premiers,

    RE: Urgent need to respond to violence and hate directed at human rights defenders in Canada

    We are writing this Open Letter, in advance of next week’s First Ministers’ Meeting, to urge that you individually and collectively commit to measures that will ensure that human rights defenders across Canada, particularly women and Indigenous human rights defenders working on issues related to territory, land and the environment, are recognised for their human rights work and able to carry out that vital work free from threats and violence, in a safe and enabling environment.

    Last month, Albertans, Canadians and people around the world were appalled when a sticker associated with an Alberta-based company, X-Site Energy Services, depicting a drawing of global climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg in a manner suggestive of her being sexually assaulted, came to light. While there have been many expressions of dismay and disgust about this particular sticker, by politicians, oil industry officials, journalists, activists and others, it is imperative to recognize and acknowledge that this is not a unique or singular incident. It is reflective of a wider concern for which much more serious and concerted action is urgently needed.

    After the existence of the sticker came to the attention of and then was made public by a concerned member of the public, Michelle Narang, on February 26th, it was rightfully widely condemned.  On February 27th, Alberta’s Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Leela Aheer stated that the image was “completely deplorable, unacceptable and degrading.”  She urged that “whoever is responsible should be ashamed and apologize immediately.”[1] That same day Jason Kenney called the image “odious”, also on Twitter.[2]  

    In a tweet on February 29th Greta Thunberg responded by stating: “They are starting to get more and more desperate... This shows that we’re winning.”[3] X-Site Energy Services published an apology on its website on March 2nd, saying that the sticker “does not reflect the values” of the company and that they are “taking action to condemn this image and its publication.”[4] There has also been condemnation of the sticker in the House of Commons.[5] At the same time, the RCMP has reportedly stated that they have investigated the image and determined that it does not “meet the threshold of a criminal matter.”[6]  

    Those responses cannot in any way be the end of the matter. With respect to this particular incident, so much remains unexplained and unclarified about the approval, production and circulation of the sticker. Premier Kenney, we expect that your government will take steps to investigate further. And we look to all of your governments to adopt appropriate measures to end and prevent further threats and smear campaigns against human rights defenders. 

    In our earlier Open Letter sent to Premier Kenney on September 10, 2019 we particularly urged the government of Alberta to “hold all actors involved in the province’s oil and gas industry – including companies, industry associations and advocacy groups supportive of the industry – accountable for their human rights responsibilities, in particular respecting the rights and safety of human rights defenders, Indigenous peoples and persons of all genders.”[7] This is an important opportunity to do so.

    But the concerns that this sticker has brought to light are not limited to the province of Alberta, Greta Thunberg, X-Site Energy Services or merely to companies in the oil and gas industry.  This is in fact reflective of a deeply troubling pattern of increasing levels of threats and attacks against human rights defenders worldwide. Notably, Amnesty International, UN officials and numerous human rights organizations have documented that amidst rapidly increasing danger for human rights defenders around the world in recent years, defenders who raise concerns related to territory, land and the environment face even greater risk, particularly in our hemisphere, the Americas. The nature and levels of threats and attacks against women and Indigenous human rights defenders is particularly disturbing.

    By no means is Canada immune from these disturbing developments. That is why, in our September 10, 2019 Open Letter to Premier Kenney, we noted that,

    “Amnesty International is aware of women human rights defenders in Canada who have received explicit and disturbing threats of violence, including sexual violence. For instance, women involved in anti-pipeline campaigns – many of them Indigenous women – have been the target of online intimidation by social media campaigns, and many have reported receiving threats, including threats of violence and sexual violence. This hostility is particularly concerning in light of the well-documented human rights concerns related to online harassment and abuse, as well as the disproportional levels of violence faced by Indigenous women in Canada. Research by Amnesty International and others demonstrates the harmful, unintended consequences of energy development on Indigenous women and girls.”[8]

    In recent weeks, with rising tensions and backlash to blockades and solidarity protests across the country associated with the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in the territory of the Wet’suwet’en people in British Columbia, there have been many reports[9] of Indigenous people being subjected to increased levels of hateful and racist taunts and threats, including threats of sexual violence against Indigenous women.

    It is against that very disturbing backdrop that the implications of this recent sticker associating Greta Thunberg with a suggestion of sexual assault must be understood.  That is why we are writing to you Prime Minister Trudeau, and to all Premiers across the country. We are looking to you to demonstrate leadership at this time by:

    • Expressing strong support for the vitally important role that human rights defenders, including Indigenous rights defenders and environmental defenders, play in addressing the climate crisis and other serious human rights challenges across Canada.
    • Unequivocally condemning all threats, smear campaigns and other actions that expose human rights defenders to violence and abuse, noting in particular the heightened risks faced by women and Indigenous human rights defenders.
    • Recognizing that incidents of this nature most frequently arise in relation to campaigns raising concerns about the activities of natural resource and other companies, including in connection to the global climate crisis, setting and enforcing clear expectations of industry that threats, attacks or smear campaigns against human rights defenders will not be tolerated.
    • Committing to take concerted action that will ensure that threats and attacks against human rights defenders are promptly investigated and prosecuted when borne out by evidence; and that measures are adopted to provide human rights defenders with a safe and enabling environment in which they can carry out their work without fear of reprisals.
    • Taking decisive action to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, end gender-based violence, address the human rights impact of the climate crisis, and act on other concerns and recommendations raised by human rights defenders in Canada.

    We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss Amnesty International’s concerns and recommendations further.

    Sincerely,                   

    Alex Neve                                                           France-Isabelle Langlois

    Secretary General                                            Directrice générale

    Amnesty International Canada                   Amnistie internationale Canada francophone

    (English branch)

    [5] 'Greta' decal condemned in House of Commons, Alex Antoneshyn, CTV News, 28 February 2020,

    https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/greta-decal-condemned-in-house-of-commons-1.4832591

    [6] Alberta Oilfield Firm Apologizes For Graphic ‘Greta Thunberg’ Sticker, Samantha Beattie, Huffington Post Canada, 2 March 2020, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/greta-thunberg-sticker-apology_ca_5e5d44a9c5b63aaf8f5b1606.

    [9] Mohawks face online threats, hate as protest continues, Christopher Curtis, Montreal Gazette, March 3, 2020, https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/mohawks-face-online-threats-hate-as-protest-continues; First Nations receive death threats over Canada pipeline battle, Brandi Morin, Al Jazeera, March 1, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/nations-receive-death-threats-canada-pipeline-battle-200301054458822.html; Indigenous people face racist backlash over pipeline protests, Joe Friesen, Globe and Mail, February 28, 2020, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-indigenous-people-face-racist-backlash-over-pipeline-protests/; Rise in anti-Indigenous racism and violence seen in wake of Wet'suwet'en protests, Angela Sterritt, CBC News, February 26, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/rise-in-anti-indigenous-racism-violence-requires-allyship-accountability-say-victims-advocates-1.5477383.