An investigation into a special unit of the RCMP will focus on police conduct at several resource industry stand0ffs in B.C. the past two years, including one in the West Kootenay.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) will look into the actions of the the RCMP “E” Division Community-Industry Response Group (CIRG), which was formed in 2017 to respond to protests against industrial projects in B.C.
One of the incidents to be investigated is the police enforcement of an injunction obtained by Cooper Creek Cedar against protesters at Salisbury Creek near Argenta in the summer of 2022, which led to 17 arrests.
The investigation also will probe enforcement tactics in two other conflicts: the Coastal GasLink Ltd. injunction on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory and the Teal Cedar Products Ltd. injunction in the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island.
The CRCC is independent of the RCMP. It will investigate whether the CIRG followed its own policies and the law, and whether its policies and tactics comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The investigation comes after widespread complaints to the CRCC about aggressive and militaristic police tactics at all three locations.
The CCRC has classified this as a systemic investigation rather than an investigation of isolated incidents or of individual officers.
A member of Land Stand West Kootenay, one of the organizers of the protest at Argenta in the summer of 2022, lauded the investigation.
“Abuse of power and use of force is unacceptable against peaceful protesters,” Ernest Smuga told the Nelson Star in an online message.
“It brings into question the integrity of the unit … where officers are seen as personal bodyguards and enforcers for forestry (and natural resources) industries.”
He said the group is asking for compensation for about $30,000 worth of personal property they say was destroyed or confiscated by the police at the Argenta Face camp, which was located on private property.
Noah Ross, a lawyer who represents the group, told the Nelson Star that he thinks the CIRG should be disbanded, or at least its operations should be stopped, while the investigation is underway, because the unit committed a number of human rights violations while making its Argenta arrests.
He said the CIRG created a large exclusion zone that blocked local residents from accessing their homes and travelling on a public road. The officers sealed the whole area off, he said, and aggressively arrested many people who were not actually blocking the road.
“It seems a lot of these human rights violations or charter rights violations were planned into their operations,” Ross said.
In addition to the CRCC investigation, there are three other legal processes still at play in connection with the Salisbury Creek injunction.
• Several groups in the West Kootenay including Last Stand filed a complaint to the CRCC in July, 2022. The complaint alleges that the RCMP went beyond the terms of the injunction, and with a “gratuitous show of RCMP aggression” arrested people who were not impeding traffic and who were not standing on the road. The CCRC has not yet responded to the complaint.
• In a Nelson court on July 19, 2022, a group of 17 people who had been arrested at Salisbury Creek arrived in court expecting a hearing. But it was delayed because Cooper Creek Cedar’s lawyer told the judge his client intended to apply to the Crown to have the protesters charged with criminal contempt of court rather than civil contempt. This would mean the Crown charging the protesters with a crime, rather than the company suing them for damages.
But the company has not so far pursued that application and no one arrested at Salibury Creek has yet been in front of a judge.
• In September, lawyers for Cooper Creek Cedar appeared in court in Nelson asking the judge to order Last Stand West Kootenay to reveal the names of the managers of its website and social media, alleging that those platforms encouraged people to cause harm to the company by blocking the logging road.
Justice Lindsay Lyster reserved judgement and has not yet released a decision.