British Columbia

Complaints commissioner says RCMP sitting on year-old report into alleged abuses of power

Response addresses alleged unlawful RCMP actions against supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose construction of the $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline through traditional territory.

Response addresses alleged unlawful RCMP actions against anti-pipeline protesters in Wet'suwet'en territory

Ta’Kaiya Blaney, upper left, Delee Alexis Nikal, upper right, Stewart Phillip, lower right, and David Suzuki, lower left, speak to media regarding a report by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission into the actions of the RCMP in Wet'suwet'en and the exclusion zone in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, February 20, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The official responsible for addressing civilian complaints against the RCMP says she will not investigate claims that the RCMP have been acting unlawfully in Wet'suwet'en territory, because recommendations addressing identical issues were sent to the force almost a year ago. 

Michelaine Lahaie, Chair of the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, said a report into public complaints around 2013 and 2014 police action at shale gas protests in Kent County, New Brunswick contained recommendations to the RCMP on matters such as use of arrest, detention and search powers, and use of force.

Lahaie said the RCMP has had the report since March 2019, however has yet to respond or make the findings public.

According to Lahaie, conducting a separate investigation into the current situation in B.C. would "possibly delay the resolution of he issues being raised... " and that the Commission "...has already provided extensive guidance to the RCMP... about the very issues you raise with regard to the current situation in British Columbia."

Last month, Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed complaints with the CRCC over the RCMP's implementation and enforcement of a checkpoint and exclusion zone in traditional Wet'suwet'en territory in northern B.C. as officers were sent in to clear anti-pipeline protesters to make way for  crews building the $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.

A checkpoint is seen at a bridge leading to a Coastal GasLink worksite on a remote logging road near Houston, B.C., on Jan. 17, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

In her letter, Lahaie outlined the Kent County findings relevant to the Wet'suwet'en situation, including:   

  • The RCMP had no legal authority to require passengers to produce identification at check points.
  • The RCMP had no legal authority to conduct stop checks for the purposes of information gathering.
  • Stop checks went beyond the limited purposes for which courts have approved them and were found to be inconsistent with the Charter rights of vehicle occupants.
  • Routine searches of vehicles and individuals entering protester camps were not authorized by law. 
  • The power for police to create buffer zones is not a general power.
  • Blocking public and media access to roadways may have been unreasonable.

Harsha Walia, executive director of the BCCLA said Lahaie's letter is proof the RCMP has been granting itself discretionary and unjustified powers.

"The RCMP, we see, has continued to engage in the very similar pattern of unlawful policing operations in Wet'suwet'en territories," said Walia. "What is incredibly disturbing is that the RCMP has been aware of these very same issues since March 2019."

Complainant Delee Alexis Nikal says Wet'suwet'en community members and invited guests continue to have their rights infringed upon by the RCMP through unlawful stop checks.

"There's human rights violations that are occurring," she said. "We have elders that are scared to go out on their own  territories, territories that they were raised on. They know that the RCMP are there to basically escort CGL in."

Lahaie said she could use her discretion as CRCC chair to initiate an investigation into the Wet'suwet'en related complaints in the future.