The Harper government must withdraw its anti-terror legislation and replace it with a measure that doesn’t brand protesters as terrorists, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations told the House of Commons committee studying Bill C-51.
“The biggest fear and concern is that just because we will stand up to protect our lands and our waters from any development, we could be branded as terrorists,” Perry Bellegarde told the Commons Public Safety Committee yesterday. “First Nations know better than anyone how easy it is for government to ignore, erode and eradicate our most basic human rights and freedoms until you barely recognize the land you’re living in.”
When Bellegarde was elected in mid-December, he vowed that First Nations would “oppose any development that deprives our children of the legacy of our ancestors,” adding that “we will no longer accept poverty and hopelessness, while resource companies and governments grow fat off our land, resources, and territories.” Before the Public Safety Committee, he tabled an internal memo in which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police labelled pipeline protesters “violent anti-petroleum extremists.”
“Bill C-51 sets up conditions for conflict by creating conditions where our people will be labelled as threats,” Bellegarde said. “This is not an abstract argument for our people: we’ve been labelled as terrorists when we stand up for our rights and our lands and our waters. We can see how First Nations have been lumped in with terrorists and violent extremists when they are asserting their fundamental rights and jurisdiction, as in the recently leaked RCMP memo.”