RCMP watchdog concerned with delays in B.C. C-IRG probe

The RCMP’s federal review agency has hired an Indigenous-led law firm amid concerns around delays as it investigates the Community-Industry Response Group, special unit created to police civil disobedience against pipeline expansion in B.C.

Civilian Review and Complaints Commission also announces hiring of Indigenous-led law firm in email update

Protesters hold a big red banner reading, "RCMP OFF WET'SUWET'EN LAND"
Protesters in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia block an Ottawa intersection outside the Prime Minister's office Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The RCMP's federal review agency recently hired an Indigenous-led law firm as concerns grow about delays in its probe of the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG), a special unit created to police civil disobedience against pipelines in British Columbia.

The watchdog, created to ensure complaints against Mounties are handled fairly, launched a systemic investigation in March into the controversial C-IRG outfit, which is known for its Coastal GasLink and Fairy Creek tactical operations. 

"Progress is coming along well although delays in receiving the relevant material is a concern," said the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) in an Aug. 3 email seen by CBC News.

The CRCC hired Vancouver-based Turtle Island Law LLP based on feedback on the probe's scope, the email said, and the firm will gather testimony from those impacted, said founding partners and siblings Sharae Antley and Jaden Bourque. 

"What we've really been hired for is to do so in a decolonial, Indigenized and trauma-informed manner," said Bourque, who, like Antley, identifies as Slavey Dené, Cree-Métis and Canadian.

"We know it's going to retraumatize them," added Antley. "There's no avoidance to that. We're entrenched in a deeply colonial system."

police officers climb a barricade
RCMP enforce an injunction in Wet'suwet'en territory in 2019. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

The CRCC will assess whether the RCMP group's operations complied with law, policy, best practices and where appropriate, federal Indigenous rights law and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

B.C. Mounties formed C-IRG in 2017 after the massive anti-pipeline resistance led by the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, expressing concern about potentially similar opposition against the contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Over the next six years, activists, academics, civil liberties groups and even the courts would criticize the squad, which faces lawsuits and hundreds of individual CRCC complaints on top of the systemic investigation.

'It must be abolished'

Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Na'Moks (John Ridsdale) was not surprised by reports of delays, pointing to understaffing and underfunding at the CRCC.

"I believe they're trying their best with what they got," he said. "But it is the tactics of the RCMP and C-IRG itself to stall, stall."

An older man wearing glasses, a denim shirt and a blue jacket stands next to a snowy riverbank.
Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Na'Moks (John Ridsdale) links the C-IRG to the RCMP's colonial past. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

Na'Moks, who opposes Coastal GasLink, got involved with the investigation at the outset and remains optimistic.

"It must be abolished," he said of the C-IRG, linking it to the force's colonial past.

"The RCMP was created as the North West Mounted Police to settle the Indian problem. I don't think we're the problem," said Na'Moks. "We're the solution for a better future."

Any delays in receiving material will impact the CRCC's ability to conclude the investigation in a timely manner.- Civilian Review and Complaints Commission

Some complainants wanted the investigation to have more teeth, like the potential to recommend disbandment, said lawyer Noah Ross, counsel to Fairy Creek arrestees and counsel on two CRCC group complaints..

"The complaints speak to systemic, organized violations of charter rights and that's what their experiences are," he said.

"It just doesn't appear the concerns are being responded to with alacrity or a kind of urgency that my clients feel is needed."

Ross said hiring an Indigenous-led firm won't necessarily address those concerns, though he called it "troubling" nevertheless if there are delays.

6-week timeframe to produce files

The C-IRG unit started out by enforcing injunctions for Trans Mountain in 2017 and 2018, internal files show.

The Trudeau government paid $4.5 billion for the project in 2018 — now expected to cost more than $30 billion — which would roughly twin an existing oil line from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.

In 2019, the C-IRG conducted its first raid on Wet'suwet'en territory to dismantle blockades against the $14.5-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would carry fracked gas from shale fields in northeast B.C. to a liquefaction terminal on the coast.

The operation generated concern for its perceived military style that included deploying "lethal overwatch" and carbine-wielding SWAT teams. A similar C-IRG raid prompted countrywide First Nations-led rail blockades in 2020. 

A group of people in high-visibility vests and police officers walk on muddy ground in a forest.
Anti-logging protesters at Fairy Creek on Sept. 29, 2021. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC)

In 2021, a B.C. judge found the C-IRG's practice of blocking media from documenting raids on anti-logging blockades at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island was illegal. The same judge later cancelled an injunction over "substantial infringement of civil liberties" by police.

The decision was reversed on appeal, however. The Mounties now face a proposed class-action lawsuit over the forestry fight, and this week prosecutors dropped charges against 146 protesters after Mounties failed to read them the full injunction.

The CRCC said via statement the investigation was comprehensive and covered a a five-year span, with thousands of documents already disclosed and more coming. But the commission has a deal with the Mounties, spelling out timeframes for the production of documents, which, in this case, is six weeks.

"Any delays in receiving material will impact the CRCC's ability to conclude the investigation in a timely manner," the commission said.

CBC News contacted the RCMP Friday morning but hasn't yet received a response. The force previously told CBC News it takes member conduct very seriously and welcomes the CRCC investigation.


Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.