Injunctions justify RCMP spending near $50M on resource standoffs, B.C. Mountie says

The leader of an RCMP unit tasked with policing resistance to resource extraction in British Columbia says injunctions justify his squad spending nearly $50 million on operations over five years.

Law scholar calls injunctions a ‘problematic’ way of addressing First Nations land rights issues

RCMP and old-growth logging demonstrators face off at the Fairy Creek blockades in 2021. An accounting shows the operation cost police nearly $19 million. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

The leader of an RCMP unit tasked with policing resistance to resource extraction in British Columbia says court-ordered injunctions justify his squad spending nearly $50 million on operations over its five-year existence.

"We don't have a choice," said Chief Supt. John Brewer, commander of the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG), in a phone interview from Surrey, B.C.

"There is a clause in there that says we must enforce that injunction. We try to do it with the least amount of direct contact, but sometimes, when they're blocking roads, impeding under the injunction, we have to act."

But one legal scholar who writes extensively on injunctions suggests the issue is more nuanced than that. While it's true injunctions include enforcement clauses, Irina Ceric said they contain baked-in, boilerplate caveats providing police broad discretion on how and when to act.

"How they enforce, and to what degree they enforce, is something that is very much within the discretion of the police," said Ceric, an assistant professor of law at the University of Windsor, Ont.

"Particularly, when it comes to a $50-million price tag, there's a lot of discretionary decisions that go into getting to that level of enforcement."

CBC News revealed last week the C-IRG spent $49.9 million enforcing court orders for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the Coastal GasLink pipeline and old-growth logging at Fairy Creek between 2017 and 2022.

An internal accounting shows the force spent $3.5 million on Trans Mountain, a $21.4-billion pipeline expansion the Trudeau government bought in 2018. It would twin an existing oil line stretching from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.

The outfit spent nearly $28 million on Coastal GasLink. The $11.2-billion project would carry fracked gas from wells near Dawson Creek to a liquefaction facility in Kitimat to be shipped to Asian markets.

Brewer's unit spent $18.7 million on the old-growth logging operation at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, where forestry firm Teal Cedar estimated the value of timber products at roughly $20 million.

Injunctions 'problematic,' law scholar says

While Brewer concedes his unit is a big spender, he denies the costs are excessive or unreasonable. He said every dollar he spends is approved through the chain of command including, if redeploying officers from other districts, by  governments.

"When I do my planning process, I don't just sit there and dream it up myself. I have a planning team, and then that plan is then approved through my senior management," he said.

"I would challenge that we spent excessive dollars, or used excessive HR resources, simply because I don't have an excess of either."

One of the small structures built by the Tiny House Warriors and placed along the construction route of the North Thompson portion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. (Kanahaus Manuel/Facebook)

Ceric points to a 2021 B.C. court decision criticizing the RCMP's enforcement tactics at Fairy Creek. The judge ruled the C-IRG's use of exclusion zones and roadblocks was "unlawful."

Ceric said injunctions are also "problematic" because they rope police, a public agency, into a private court proceeding ill suited to address conflicts involving the Crown, industry and Aboriginal title rights.

"Policing is the symptom, it's not the problem. The problem is that these struggles over resources and over extraction are dealt with in this way," she said.

"There's a lot that they could do differently. They could certainly dial down the level of force that's used in policing these incidents. But the policing, as I said, it's the symptom."

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief Na'moks (John Ridsdale) expressed similar concerns when shown the accounting last week. 

Chief Na'moks, a spokesperson for the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, speaks to supporters of Unist'ot'en camp and Wet'suwet'en people in the main dining hall near Houston, B.C., on Jan. 9, 2019. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

"This is all spent to suppress Indigenous and human rights. It was created just for that purpose: to protect industry," said Na'moks of Brewer's squad.

"It's supposed to be monitored provincially and federally, yet they seem to get free rein and make up their own laws as they go along."

While five of six Wet'suwet'en bands signed agreements with Coastal GasLink, hereditary chiefs oppose the project, which passes through unceded territory.

488 complaints

The criticism doesn't faze Brewer, a nearly 30-year Mountie and former member of an RCMP tactical Emergency Response Team who has also policed internationally in Afghanistan.

Brewer assumed command of the C-IRG in 2021, a unit founded in 2017 to address what the RCMP calls "energy industry incidents."

The RCMP's watchdog agency, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), says it received 488 complaints about C-IRG-led operations. The commission accepted 115 for investigation. 

"The complaints cover a wide range of topics including unlawful arrests, use of force, exclusion zones, access of journalists to protest sites, and other allegations. Many relate to the conduct of members of the C-IRG," said CRCC communications director Kate McDerby in an email.

Brewer said he takes all allegations and complaints seriously, but said they rarely prove true.

"Where we have instances where there's complaints made, we investigate fully," he said.

"The CRCC is happy with how we investigate things."

Under the review process, the CRCC must refer complaints to the Mounties for an initial probe. The Mounties so far investigated 36 of the 115 accepted gripes, the CRCC says. When the force completes an investigation, the complainant can ask the watchdog for a review if they remain dissatisfied.

The agency has received seven review requests. One review is complete, producing a "satisfied report" from the watchdog, McDerby said.

"The CRCC is not part of the RCMP. As such, RCMP members are not authorized to speak on its behalf," McDerby wrote.


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.