British Columbia

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs among those calling for civilian review of RCMP actions

A coalition that includes Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is accusing the RCMP of "improper and unlawful actions" in enforcing a checkpoint and exclusion zone near the Coastal GasLink work site.

Groups say RCMP action near Coastal GasLink site is 'improper and unlawful'

A coalition of groups is accusing the RCMP of 'improper and unlawful actions' near the Coastal GasLink work site. The coalition held a news conference Thursday in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A coalition that includes Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is accusing the RCMP of "improper and unlawful actions" in enforcing a checkpoint and exclusion zone near the Coastal GasLink work site.

The groups are calling on the chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP — which is not part of the RCMP — to initiate a policy complaint and public interest investigation into the actions of officers on Morice West Forest Service Road in Wet'suwet'en territory.

The complaint includes eight first-hand accounts of inconsistent policies for those who are turned away at the checkpoint. 

The CRCC confirmed it received the complaint Thursday and it is currently under review. 

 "I am one of the people turned away," said Irina Ceric, a faculty member at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Irina Ceric, a faculty member at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says she was struck by the arbitrariness of the RCMP's treatment of people trying to get through to Wet'suwet'en territory. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I still don't know why one day I couldn't go in and one day I could go in," she said.

Ceric said she was struck by the arbitrariness of the RCMP's treatment of people trying to get through to Wet'suwet'en territory.

"You're kind of at the mercy of the luck of the draw in terms of which police officers you get and which policies they're going to enforce that day.... This has really been an expansion of RCMP authority without lawful ground."

Wet'suwet'en 'feel under siege' 

Harsha Walia, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said Ceric is one of many people who have been turned away at the Morice West Forest Service Road checkpoint. 

"It is completely outside the scope of what was granted to the RCMP," said Walia.

"We have serious concerns about the RCMP discretion in the territory."

Walia accused the RCMP of interfering in the daily lives of the Wet'suwet'en people by turning away visitors to the territory.

"The Wet'suwet'en understandably feel under siege." 

RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet told CBC news in a statement: "A protocol is in place that has been shared with the hereditary chiefs. It allows access to the chiefs, elected chiefs and government officials, lawyers registered to practice law with the Law Society of BC, and other persons providing food, medicine or other supplies or services required for the well-being and safety of persons behind the blockades.

"The hereditary chiefs and their spokespersons have regularly contacted the police to address questions, misunderstandings or disputes regarding access. The senior commander spoke yesterday to their representative and committed to continuing this dialogue."

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called on Premier John Horgan to meet with Wet'suwe'ten hereditary chiefs.

At Thursday's news conference, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called on Premier John Horgan to meet with Wet'suwe'ten hereditary chiefs. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I would like to publicly call on Premier John Horgan to get off his high colonial horse and honour the Wet'suwe'ten hereditary chiefs with his personal presence ... in order to deescalate the situation."

Earlier this week, Horgan appointed former Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen to act as an intermediary between the Wet'suwe'ten hereditary chiefs, the province of B.C., RCMP, Coastal GasLink and others.

Cullen is expected to focus on "de-escalating the conflict," according to a news release from the provincial government earlier this week. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Grand Chief Stewart Phillip as a Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief. In fact, Grand Chief Phillip is president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
    Jan 30, 2020 11:32 AM PT

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