Blair says RCMP best left to patrol Wet'suwet'en territory, not Kahnawake peacekeepers

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the RCMP is the best service to patrol traditional Wet'suwet'en territory for now despite the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake's offer to have its peacekeepers head up a temporary Indigenous police force to ease tensions.

Kahnawake grand chief had said replacing RCMP could lead to 'immediate de-escalation of the current crisis'

A peacekeeper speaks to people at the protest site in Kahnawake on Wednesday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the RCMP is the best service to patrol traditional Wet'suwet'en territory for now despite the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake's offer to have its peacekeepers head up a temporary Indigenous police force to ease tensions.

"The RCMP are the police of jurisdiction working under police contract with the B.C. government in that territory and in most of non-urban British Columbia," Blair said on CBC's Power & Politics on Friday.

"They're very good and competent police service and the people in that territory deserve the very best in police service that can be provided. And today that's by the RCMP."

Though it's ultimately not his decision, Blair said, the RCMP will "continue to do their work."

The minister's comments were made after the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake issued a news release quoting Grand Chief Joe Norton as offering a "possible solution to address one of the most problematic issues in the Wet'suwet'en situation."

The offer came as Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs were set to meet for a second day Friday with B.C. and federal government officials in northwestern B.C., as they try to break an impasse in a pipeline dispute that has sparked weeks of protests across the country.

Mounties made the decision to end patrols along a critical roadway in Wet'suwet'en territory while negotiations unfold — a request made by the hereditary chiefs. 

"The key demand is for the RCMP to leave, but there is a need for policing services to offer assistance in everyday matters," Norton said in the release. "We feel this can lead to an immediate de-escalation of the current crisis."

The force would be led by Kahnawake Peacekeepers and include members of other Indigenous police services, Norton told CBC News Friday. 

The Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline would run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, B.C., through traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en. (Office of the Wet'suwet'en/CBC)

The idea would have to be approved by the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs currently at the negotiating table, the federal and British Columbia governments and the RCMP, Norton said.

Norton said he spoke about the idea on Thursday with federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller and Justice Minister David Lametti.

"There seems to be acknowledgement that might be a very good answer at this point in time," Norton said.

"We did a similar thing in Kanesetake in 2004 when requested to come and help to ease a very tense situation there," he said. "We stayed for a while and helped calm things down, restore peace."

The head of the Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers, Dwayne Zacharie —  who is also president of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association — is contacting other Indigenous police chiefs in order to be ready to send an "amalgamation of officers," said Const. Kyle Zachary, a spokesperson for the Kahnawake force. 

Peacekeepers are recognized federal police officers

Zachary said it's too early to say how many officers would be needed and where they would come from.

Norton said it wasn't impossible that an Indigenous force could work with the RCMP. He said that funding for the project, if it happened, would be up to the Canadian and B.C. governments. 

"They created the circumstances, so they would have to pay for it," he said.

Kahnawake peacekeepers are recognized as federal police officers who enforce the Criminal Code of Canada, Zachary said. Officers in the force complete the six-month RCMP training program in Regina.

Watch Public Safety Minister Bill Blair explain why the RCMP are there to stay: 

Blair rejects Kahnawake Mohawk's offer

3 years ago
Duration 1:14
Canada's Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has turned down the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake's proposal to have its peacekeepers head up a temporary Indigenous police force to patrol traditional Wet'suwet'en territory instead of the RCMP.

Zachary wouldn't speculate on whether an Indigenous peacekeeping unit would enforce a court injunction in Wet'suwet'en, saying the proposal has not been accepted and the specific objectives and composition of the unit haven't been defined. 

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters erected a camp in the territory in northern British Columbia to prevent the construction of a natural gas pipeline there.

Solidarity protests and blockades erupted across the province after the RCMP enforced a British Columbia Supreme Court injunction by raiding the camp earlier this month

Work on the pipeline has been paused for two days as the hereditary chiefs meet with government officials.

A blockade in Kahnawake is halting operations on a Canadian Pacific Railway line south of Montreal. The Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers have said they have no intention of enforcing an injunction to dismantle that blockade.

With files from Alison Northcott