The Vancouver Police Department has consistently met Indigenous land defenders with hostility, but sit idly by while ‘Freedom’ marches occur

News Unsettled Opinions

Colonizers have been spreading disease for decades, but Indigenous rights are where they draw the line

News Unsettled Native Students Union column
Graphic provided by the Native Students Union.

The night of March 12-13, 2021, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) violently arrested two Indigenous people over a rail blockade. The actions of the VPD in this case are a stark contrast to their reactions to the multiple anti-COVID-19 demonstrations over the last year.

On March 12, 2021, around 8:00 p.m., members of the solidarity group Braided Warriors, based out of səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ, sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territories, began a blockade of the railroad close to the Renfrew Skytrain.

According to the Braided Warriors Instagram page, the action took place after the Giniw Collective, a land defense group based in the lands referred to as Minnesota, called for a week of action.

Although the police arrived shortly after the blockade started, the aggression did not start until late into the night. VPD officers violently detained two land defenders. The force used was excessive. The two that were detained were released around 2:30 a.m.

The action taken by the VPD against the Braided Warriors was extreme, considering the blockade was not putting any one at risk. The reactions by the VPD to white-dominated protests against the province of British Columbia’s COVID-19 rules and regulations, on the other hand, have been silence and bystanderism.

There have been three of these events, each consisting of hundreds of attendees. The first, in October 2020, was dubbed a “mega freedom rally” and drew around 1000 people. No arrests were made, with the only action taken being by BC Ferries who gave 12 attendees a one-day ban from sailing.

The second occurred in early December 2020 and was called the “B.C. Christmas Freedom Rally 2020.” This march had around 400 attendees, and again there was no action taken by VPD.

The most recent gathering, the “B.C. Grand Freedom Rally,” happened in February 2021. This rally drew over 200 people.

At all of these events, more than willing to put the public in danger of COVID-19, there have not been any arrests. The provincial government has said little about these large gatherings, save small comments like Health Minister Adrian Dix telling the public “don’t promote them.”

Why, then, does the VPD approach small gatherings of Indigenous land defenders, pre-COVID-19 and throughout, with such violence and hostility?

The VPD and the B.C. provincial government ignore huge spreading events but have extremely strong opinions on the defense of Indigenous rights, and they are not supportive.

In 2019, the B.C. government passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. This act means to integrate the articles of UNDRIP into B.C. law. The articles cover many topics, and land rights are present in several.

The continued arresting of Indigenous people is a blatant disregard of DRIPA. The B.C. government has passed this act, and links it to the pursuit of Truth and Reconciliation. However, they continue to break their commitment.Canada is built on colonialism. Settlers have been spreading disease since the 16th century, they have no problem doing it in the 21st century. This is why VPD and the B.C. government have such an easy time ignoring these huge gatherings but can not stomach even an ounce of Indigenous resistance. If one is white, flaunting regulations in the midst of a global pandemic that has affected millions is completely alright, but Indigenous people calling for any accountability to the government’s own laws is met with extreme hostility.