U of T professors and students have signed onto two petitions circulated by the U of T Department of Geography & Planning and a group of lawyers and legal academics to express solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders. The petitions condemn the Canadian government for violating Indigenous rights on unceded territory.
The Department of Geography & Planning’s petition features the signatures of 33 faculty members, 9 staff, and 78 students. Signatories include Emily Gilbert, Director of Canadian Studies; Monika Havelka, Director of Programs in Environment at UTM; and Ron Buliung, Graduate Chair of the department.
“We stand in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs who are protecting their traditional territories from oil and gas development,” the petition reads. It goes on to cite the 1997 Delgamuukw court case, which confirmed that the hereditary chiefs are the title holders of Wet’suwet’en traditional territories, meaning that they never ceded control of their land.
Since 2012, the Wet’suwet’en have been engaged in struggle against a proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline that would run through their territory. Since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided a Wet’suwet’en camp on February 6, people across the country have been participating in rail blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en.
On March 1, a proposed agreement between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and government ministers was announced by Hereditary Chief Woos and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett. The agreement still has to be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en people before the details are released, reported CBC News.
A second petition signed by lawyers and legal academics across the country, including two current and one former University of Toronto professors, outlines further violations of the Canadian government in regard to Wet’suwet’en land defenders.
The drafters of the petition, four members of the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor and one independent legal academic, explain that forcibly removing Indigenous peoples from their lands is in violation of the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the BC legislature passed in November 2019.
Highlighting further injustice, the petition cites a Ryerson University study, emphasizing that while “76% of injunctions filed by corporations against First Nations were granted, over 80% of injunctions sought by First Nations against corporations and the government were denied.”
In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote: “As a university, we are committed to playing a leadership role in addressing climate change through our research, our teaching and by taking action to reduce the carbon footprint of our campuses, including the Low-Carbon Action Plan released last fall and new efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of our endowment and pension funds.”
“We support the ability of our faculty members to engage in issues that they feel strongly about,” U of T wrote in response to the petitions. “That is in line with the University’s policies on academic freedom and free speech, and in keeping with our long-standing tradition of fostering global citizens.”