Environmental activist David Suzuki, from left to right, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, environmental activist Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Director of UBC’s Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, Harsha Walia, Executive Director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and Delee Alexis Nikal, of the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en Clan, attend a news conference to address the response from the chair of the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission regarding the RCMP exclusion zone in the Wet’suwet’en territory, in Vancouver, on Thursday, February 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Stop checks, searches of Wet’suwet’en pipeline opposers unlawful: Watchdog

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs file complaint

A civilian police watchdog has released a letter that was described Thursday as “explosive” by a supporter of hereditary chiefs opposed to a pipeline in northern British Columbia because it criticizes the RCMP for using buffer or exclusion zones.

Michelaine Lahaie, chairperson of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, declined to launch a public interest investigation into the RCMP’s conduct on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory earlier this month in B.C. because she said the same broad issues were raised and previously investigated in New Brunswick.

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs filed their complaint with the commissioner alleging the Mounties unlawfully restricted access to a remote logging road in northern B.C. before they enforced an injunction this month on behalf of Coastal GasLink.

In her letter, Lahaie said the commission submitted 37 findings and 12 recommendations after investigating the RCMP’s response to Indigenous-led protests against shale gas exploration in Kent County, N.B. That report was delivered to the RCMP in March 2019 but the commission has not received a response, she said.

“It is in light of this previous report that, after careful consideration, I have decided not to initiate a public interest investigation into the matters you raise in your correspondence at this time,” she says in the letter.

“This is not because I do not consider these issues to be of significant importance,” she wrote, adding that she believes opening a fresh investigation would delay a resolution of the issues raised.

Forty people were arrested near Rexton, N.B., after the RCMP enforced an injunction on Oct. 17, 2013, to prevent people from blocking a compound where SWN Resources was storing exploration equipment.

Police said they seized guns and improvised explosive devices when they enforced the injunction to end the blockade of the compound. Six police vehicles were burned and police responded with pepper spray and fired beanbag-type bullets to defuse the situation.

Lahaie says the commission’s unpublished investigation into that incident found that the RCMP generally had reasonable grounds to make the arrests and the force used was necessary and proportional. In policing protests, RCMP members demonstrated they understood the “measured approach” and did not demonstrate bias in general or engage in differential treatment of Indigenous protesters during the arrests, she says.

READ MORE: Pipeline talks got B.C. railway open, can work again, Horgan says

But the RCMP over-reached when it came to stop checks and searches near Rexton, she says.

Officers had “no legal authority” to require that passengers produce identification at stop checks and the information police collected from those who passed through was concerning, she says.

“The random stops were found to be inconsistent with the charter rights of the vehicle occupants,” Lahaie says.

Routine searches of vehicles and individuals entering a protest campsite in New Brunswick were also found unauthorized by law, she said.

When it comes to exclusion or “buffer” zones, interfering with individual liberty to circulate and peacefully protest would only be justified in specific, limited cases, Lahaie says. The power to create buffer zones, she says, ”is not a general power and instead must be temporally, geographically, and logistically responsive to the circumstances.”

The RCMP could not immediately be reached for comment.

At a news conference in Vancouver, Wet’suweten members and supporters criticized the police.

“The report that has been completed is absolutely explosive,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

The association shared statements Thursday on behalf of eight Wet’suwet’en members and supporters who say they were turned away from the area when they tried to deliver supplies, give legal support or visit pipeline opponents at a camp along the road.

Delee Alexis Nikal, one of the Wet’suwet’en complainants, said she was turned away while trying to deliver emergency supplies like hand and foot warmers when temperatures dipped below -35C.

“I was denied access and the police officer who I dealt with couldn’t really give me a good reason as to why,” she said.

Nikal said she couldn’t understand why such a heavy police presence was necessary to enforce an injunction when there don’t seem to be as many resources concentrated on solving cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the community. She named six friends and family members she has lost since she was 11.

“We’ve had a pretty long history of poor treatment by the RCMP so that adds to the nervousness and the fear for a lot of people,” she said.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, director of the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School and Dialogue Centre, said the fact that the RCMP has not responded to Lahaie almost a year after receiving the report on New Brunswick raises questions about the civilian oversight body’s power to compel the RCMP to act.

The people who filed the complaint in 2013 have yet to see the report and she said a seven-year delay in justice is unacceptable.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Turpel-Lafond said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLinkIndigenousPipeline

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Better COVID-19 testing results needed in the north

Former senior Northern Health official also wants work camps shut down

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

Northern Health preparing ‘for a changing situation’ in response to COVID-19

The health authority is taking a number of measures to free up hospital capacity where possible

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

Northwest Regional Airport says ridership extremely low amid COVID-19

The airport has enacted enhanced sanitary measures and reduced flights

World COVID-19 morning update: Olympics delayed one year; 12,000 health care workers infected

Comprehensive world news update: Lockdown in UK showing signs of hope

Newspapers are safe to touch, World Health Organization confirms

Just make sure to wash your hands as you would after touching any surface or object

‘It’s up to us: Recently-returned B.C. couple urges Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

Garrett Kucher and Tory Apostoliuk make it home after almost a week of lockdown in Spain

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

Canada will make sure masks sent by China meet quality standards: Trudeau

Chinese Embassy tweeted that China was sending 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles

B.C. issues guidelines about distancing, reusable bags to grocery stores amid COVID-19

Hand sanitizer and markers to keep lines two metres are apart are needed, province says

No plans to call in military right now to enforce COVID-19 quarantine: Trudeau

Trudeau unveils $7.5M for Kids Help Phone, $9M for vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

QUIZ: How much do you know about the Olympics?

Put your knowledge to the test with these 12 questions

Most Read