Ottawa police crackdown on Indigenous protesters described as ‘disgrace’

Image copyright Facebook Image caption First Nations leaders say this may be the biggest attack on Indigenous rights in recent history

The arrests of more than 100 supporters of Indigenous protesters in Ottawa could cause irreparable damage to our constitutional order, Indigenous leaders have warned.

The RCMP arrested 119 people after a series of dramatic confrontations between protesters and police.

Police had surrounded the Standing Rock site near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Indigenous activists there are fighting against the construction of a controversial oil pipeline.

In Ottawa, the move to remove protesters was prompted by apparent plans to march on the site. A number of arrests were made at a blocked entrance to the Max Bell Centre.

The arrests may prove to be the biggest action of its kind since Canada passed its residential school legislation under the direction of the then prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh condemned the crackdown on protesters, but the Conservative government appears to have no qualms with it.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Demonstrators at the Standing Rock protest camp have been calling for the pipeline’s shutdown

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh condemned the crackdown on protesters

First Nations leaders say there is little precedent for an action of this scale, which has been ordered by the Conservative government.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh condemned the crackdown on protesters

“The Canada I see is one where reconciliation and our relationships with First Nations – and the treatment of First Nations by non-Indigenous Canadians – can no longer continue to be sacrificed,” Chief Theresa Spence told reporters in Ottawa.

“This is the kind of targeting that won’t work and will not happen,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

First Nations leaders say Canada has a responsibility to find a way to resolve this crisis peacefully. They say it could be the largest act of human rights abuses against Indigenous people in recent history.

What is the pipeline project?

Image copyright Max Bell Image caption First Nations leaders say the pipeline has no lawful basis

The project is named the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is carrying crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

It has been the subject of intense debate in Washington. President Donald Trump, who had made a number of controversial appointments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was instrumental in approving the project in December 2016.

The $3.7bn (5bn) project is designed to move North Dakota crude oil to market. The oil is highly valued by refineries in the US Midwest. The wider community benefits from jobs and a boost to the US economy.

The plan for the pipeline had already faced serious obstacles before the Standing Rock protests.

In 2012, the Obama administration rejected its previous permit for the pipeline after an outcry from environmentalists.

After a months-long legal battle, the company behind the pipeline said it would build the Dakota Access Pipeline as long as it received assurances that it would be capable of transporting as much oil as before without leaking.

The company also claimed that there was no way that it could have come to the nation’s attention before Congress passed a bill giving Trump authority to approve the permits.

Image copyright Facebook Image caption In the more than 20-month process, Standing Rock protested against what they saw as a project unneeded and detrimental to the environment

President Trump has repeatedly voiced his support for the project.

First Nations leaders have said that the project has no lawful basis.

The chiefs have said that they are not opposed to energy development but that environmental standards should be prioritised.

They also said that First Nations should have priority access to the land through consultation with those who live on the land, rather than through the purview of a central authority.

Image copyright Facebook Image caption First Nations people view the pipeline in terms of their relationship with the land

“We do have an end goal, and that is to remove the footprint of the pipeline on the land,” chief Judy Burns of the Squamish Nation, a leader of the Sacred Stone Camp near the campsite of the Dakota Access Pipeline, told BBC News last October.

“It is not necessary,” said Burns. “It is a lesser evil to just leave the footprint of the pipeline in the ground.

“Where is our justice?”

A number of Indigenous groups have also spoken out about the action of the Standing Rock Sioux, saying that the protesters are being subjected to a disproportionate use of force.

Both an AFN member and one of Canada’s most respected political leaders, Thomas Mulcair, from the New Democratic Party, said that it is important to place blame for the “riots” where appropriate

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