Indigenous

Watchdog memos show RCMP was slow in turning over 2013 Mi'kmaw demonstration documents

The RCMP's slow and "disorganized" transfer of records cost thousands of extra dollars and caused a delay for a civilian watchdog investigation into the Mounties' handling of Mi'kmaq-led anti-shale gas demonstrations in 2013, internal records reveal. 

'Material was disorganized and exceptionally voluminous,' according to memo to complaints commission chair

Protesters face a line of police officers in Rexton, N.B. as police began enforcing an injunction to end an ongoing demonstration against shale gas exploration in eastern New Brunswick on Oct.17, 2013. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The RCMP's slow and "disorganized" transfer of records cost thousands of extra dollars and caused a delay for a civilian watchdog investigation into the Mounties' handling of Mi'kmaq-led anti-shale gas demonstrations in 2013, internal records reveal. 

The commissioner of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) launched the investigation into the RCMP's handling of the demonstrations near Elsipogtog First Nation, outside Rexton, N.B., after receiving several complaints from the public beginning in the summer of 2013.

The RCMP took three years to provide records and transferred them in a "disorganized fashion" that was "unsearchable" for the CRCC's technical resources, according to internal documents from the watchdog obtained under the Access to Information Act and provided to CBC News.

The watchdog's report is scheduled for release next month, according to a CRCC spokesperson. Commission chairperson Michelaine Lahaie released a portion of the findings this past February.

Documents show the commission received the last of the materials on Oct. 17, 2018, more than five years after the investigation was initiated.

"Significant delays were encountered in receiving relevant material from the RCMP and the material was disorganized and exceptionally voluminous in nature," said a January 2019 memo to the commission's chairperson.

The delay also increased the bill from the law firm Fasken, hired to help the commission process and analyze about two terabytes of evidence which included thousands of videos from the RCMP and witnesses, thousands of police documents and 130 witness statements.

'Essentially a document dump'

During their work, Fasken lawyers identified the need for additional materials from the RCMP. The commission then requested the RCMP provide the information to mixed results.

"Some of these requests were promptly facilitated; others were not and required numerous follow-up requests. Some relevant material remains outstanding," said a memo to the commission's chairperson from Sept. 26, 2018.

Fasken, which began its work in March 2018, requested an additional $33,500 to its $351,970 contract budget and a time extension from Sept. 30 to Nov. 30 — which was approved — to complete its work, according to the documents. 

"The main point of it is the time that we had to spend finding and organizing the material from what was essentially a document dump by the RCMP," said a Nov. 1, 2018, email to senior officials at the commission from a Fasken lawyer. 

Another memo, from September 2017, noted RCMP delays in providing documents was a systemic obstacle in the commission's investigation of complaints — which also sees delays in final reports because it usually takes at least a year for the RCMP's commissioner to respond to the interim report. 

The memo noted that, at the time, the commission was waiting for RCMP to respond in 70 investigations. 

As of March 31, 174 interim reports were waiting for the RCMP commissioner's response.

"Complainants frequently express concern about the RCMP's delay in responding to interim reports, which in turn prevents the commission from concluding the review of their complaints in a timely manner," said the memo. 

"The RCMP's failure to provide complete and-or timely disclosure of the relevant documentation also frequently delays the review of complaints," said the memo. 

Commission received 21 public complaints

The commission received a total of 21 complaints "alleging improper arrest and excessive use of force" beginning in July 2013 from RCMP operations against Mi'kmaq-led demonstrations that saw a blockade erected to stop gas exploration in the area over fears eventual hydraulic fracturing would poison the area's water.

On Oct. 17, 2013, enforcement of an injunction led to clashes between demonstrators and the RCMP, the burning of several RCMP vehicles and 40 arrests. The RCMP later displayed three single shot hunting rifles, ammunition and crude explosive devices it said were seized from the camp that had been blocking the compound used by an exploration company. 

The watchdog's chairperson in December 2014 then widened the scope of the probe to examine more broadly the RCMP's actions in policing the demonstrations.

Metepenagiag First Nation member Malcolm Ward, 39, said he filed a complaint against the RCMP over racially charged statements he heard officers utter during the raid. He was also interviewed by investigators with the commission. 

"It was based on racism and agitation," said Ward.

"It's frustrating to see the system moving so slow. It should be dealt with immediately, instead of taking seven years."

Malcolm Ward filed a complaint against the RCMP over their handling of the 2013 Mi'kmaq-led anti-shale gas demonstrations. (Logan Perley/CBC News)

Ward was one of dozens charged in connection with the demonstrations. Ward pleaded guilty to charges such as disturbing the peace and obstructing a police officer. He was given two years probation and a conditional discharge. 

'Unprecedented' volume of documents: RCMP

The commission said in an emailed statement the RCMP commissioner's response was received in mid-June. 

The RCMP said in an emailed statement that the size of the commission's investigation led to the request of an "unprecedented" volume of documentation. 

"We admit that the sheer volume of materials made it a very difficult task to collect, co-ordinate and compile the documentation," said the RCMP statement. 

"Every effort was made to respond to requests for information in as timely a manner as possible, and as efficiently as possible."

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair's office said in an emailed statement that — as outlined in the Speech from the Throne — the government planned to enhance civilian oversight over law enforcement agencies like the RCMP through legislation.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story identified Malcolm Ward as a member of Elsipogtog First Nation. He is from Metepenagiag First Nation.
    Oct 18, 2020 12:39 PM ET

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

with a file from Catharine Tunney

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