OTTAWA- The federal public safety minister’s office says they have spoken to the RCMP over concerns about language reportedly used by the agency in planning how it would deal with First Nations protesters blockading natural gas pipeline construction in northern B.C.
A spokesman for Bill Blair says they are concerned by a report by British media outlet the Guardian allegedly outlining the RCMP’s strategy to remove the blockade.
“We are committed to protecting the constitutional right to peaceful protest and are concerned by the unacceptable words and phrases that the Guardian reported were used,” Blair’s spokesman Scott Bardsley said in an email.
“Our office has raised this matter with the RCMP.”
In late 2018, Wet’suwet’en members had set up checkpoints preventing pipeline project workers from accessing a worksite for LNG Canada’s $40 billion liquefied natural gas project.
Though TransCanada had said it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline route, some members of the Wet’suwet’en argued their hereditary chiefs had not agreed and blocked a forest service road leading to the project.
Still, a court injunction allowing the company’s work to continue was granted, and the RCMP were called in to enforce it, dismantling one checkpoint early in January 2019 and arresting 14 people.
Late last week, the Guardian reported it had seen notes from a strategy session suggesting that RCMP commanders instructed officers to use as much violence as they wanted, and that they argued for “legal overwatch,” a term the newspaper said is used to represent the deployment of snipers.
The RCMP says the Guardian denied a request for the police force to see the documents referred to in the newspaper’s report and they can’t verify the validity of the statements. A spokesperson said a number of terms used in the article aren’t generally used by the RCMP, and others that are could have been taken out of context.
“The police officer(s) who occupy the position of lethal overwatch are tasked with observing, while other police officer(s) are engaged in other duties which occupy attention for example:
dialogue with demonstrators or marching in a community parade,”
Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said in an email.
“This term does not infer action other than observation.”
The federal New Democrats say they want a full investigation into the issue by both the RCMP’s civilian review and complaints commission and Blair’s office.
NDP public safety critic Jack Harris sent a letter to Blair on Monday, asking him to intervene over the allegations in the article.
“I ask that you urgently respond to the concerns arising, condemn such actions and ensure Indigenous people and the people of Canada that such actions and tactics have no place and will not be tolerated in Canada’s national police force,” Harris wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 23, 2019.