B.C. RCMP blames "inflammatory" Guardian article for damaging relations with hereditary chiefs

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      The B.C. RCMP has issued a lengthy statement taking exception to a controversial December 20 article in the Guardian.

      Among other things, the Mounties have accused the U.K.-based media outlet of damaging relationships with its stakeholders—including hereditary chiefs—that have been years in the making.

      This came after the Guardian posted an article with the following headline: "Exclusive: Canada police prepared to shoot Indigenous activists, documents show".

      This was in connection with heavily armed Mounties taking down an Indigenous blockade on January 7 in the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en people. The RCMP described the article as "inflammatory".

      Fourteen people were arrested at the time for violating a B.C. Supreme Court injunction obtained by a subsidiary of TC Energy. It's building a pipeline to bring fracked natural gas to the LNG Canada plant near Kitimat.

      "It is important to note that the RCMP requested to see the documents referenced in the article, and was denied," the Mounties stated. "As such, we cannot verify the validity of the statements made in the article or of the documents themselves.

      "Similarly, we have not had the opportunity to determine in what context any of the alleged statements may have been made or by whom," the B.C. RCMP continued. "At a minimum, if this information is purported to be from the RCMP, it would seem reasonable to identify the documents of concern so we may retrieve them from our holdings for proper review and response. We wish to renew this request, should anyone be in possession of these documents we would respectfully request that a copy be provided or the document identified."

      Often, journalists do not turn over documents to the police unless required to by a court order. The Mounties have not obtained a production order.

      The B.C. RCMP also claimed that several terms in the Guardian article are not ordinarily used by the RCMP in its operational planning, whereas others "may be used but in our opinion have been taken out of context, both of which are concerning".

      In particular, the Mounties cited the term "lethal overwatch", which appeared in the piece.

      The police claim that this "relates to an observation position taken up by armed police officers, to ensure police and public safety".

      "The police officer(s) who occupy the position of lethal overwatch are tasked with observing and protecting the safety of police officers occupied with other duties such as crowd control, barrier removal or arrest and who may not be able to access their police equipment to protect themselves from any harm," the statement adds. "This term does not indicate action other than observation with a capability to use lawful force should a threat present itself."

      After the Guardian article appeared, the spokesperson for the Gidimt'en Checkpoint, Sleydo' (a.k.a. Molly Wickham), accused the RCMP of acting as mercenaries for industry.

      "With terminology like 'lethal overwatch', 'sterilize the site', and the threat of child welfare removing our children from their homes and territory, we see the extent to which the provincial and federal governments are willing to advance the destruction of our lands and families for profit," Sleydo' stated. "The state has always removed our people from our lands to ensure control over the resources. This has never changed.

      "At a time when the province has introduced the UNDRIP legislation, the RCMP are occupying our territory for the sole purpose of protecting industry and ensuring extractive projects proceed unhindered."

      The B.C. RCMP said that it has requested a meeting with hereditary chiefs. The Gidimt'en Checkpoint was created with the approval of hereditary chiefs to assert sovereignty over unceded territory in north-central B.C.

      "In advance of any enforcement, the Division Liaison Team (DLT) and Command team held hundreds of hours of meetings and consultations with the Wet’suwet’en people," the B.C. RCMP stated. "The dialogue continued up to, included and followed the enforcement of the order. Every person who was engaged in the enforcement of the order received cultural awareness training from the Wet’suwet’en elders."

      TC Energy's subsidiary, Coastal GasLink, has obtained agreements from all elected Indigenous councils along the 670-kilometre pipeline route. Hereditary chiefs maintain that these councils, which are a creation of the Indian Act, only have jurisdiction over reserve lands and not unceded traditional territories.

      B.C.'s mainstream political parties have not commented on this issue since the Guardian story was published.

      A new party, B.C. Ecosocialists, on the other hand, has spoken out.

      "This international media report provides shocking evidence of the extent to which these heavily subsidized fossil fuel megaprojects like LNG Canada put at risk the lands and lives of Indigenous people in B.C.,” executive member Geoff Berner said in a B.C. Ecosocialists'news release. 

      He also noted that there has been a "deafening silence from NDP Premier John Horgan".

      “The NDP government, kept in power by the Green Party of B.C., has offered billions of dollars in subsidies to LNG Canada," Berner pointed out. "It's unconscionable that the B.C. government is offering massive subsidies to expand fracking and LNG.” 

      B.C. Ecosocialists executive member Geoff Berner says the Guardian provided "shocking evidence" that fossil-fuel projects endanger the lives of Indigenous people.

      Mounties release Q&A with journalist

      The B.C. RCMP did something quite unusual in trying to defend itself against the story: it released a list of questions from the Guardian reporter and its answers.

      You can read them below:

      - Documents indicate that the RCMP deployed snipers ("lethal overwatch") for the Jan. 7th raid. But the documents also note intelligence that "no single threat indicating that [the Wet'suwet'en] will use firearms." Why did the RCMP determine the deployment of snipers was necessary?

      Since we have not seen these documents you are referring to, we can only provide a general statement as to our planning process so you have context about the resources we deployed to the area.

      During the planning for the enforcement of the court-ordered injunction, the RCMP took the remote location of the Morice River Bridge into account and ensured that enough police officers were present in the area to keep the peace. We also took into consideration the unpredictable nature of what we could face in the remote area, and so we moved additional police resources including members of the Tactical and Emergency Response Teams to provide support.

      To give context, the term “sniper” is a specific position that a member of the Emergency Response Team holds. We sent a contingent of ERT team to assist on January 7, 2019, and that contingent consisted of members holding various positions. Examples of general positions in an ERT team include “sniper observer”, “breacher”, or sub-teams like the aerial extraction team. When we send an ERT team to a scene, we don’t pick and choose which members holding particular positions are deployed, but rather a whole team consisting of all sorts of roles.

      - An RCMP officer states that arrests of the Indigenous land defenders would be necessary for "sterilizing the site" -- what was meant by this?

      We don’t have information on this, so unable to respond.

      - Police established a “media exclusion zone” during the raid, blocking reporters from accessing the area -- please explain why this was done?

      The exclusion zone that was created was not exclusive to media, it was an exclusion zone for all non-police personnel.

      As with other injunction orders and police enforcement clauses, the RCMP is given discretion to decide how and when to enforce the order. Given that the police’s primary focus is for the safety of everyone involved – protesters, police officers, area residents, motorists, media and general public, we created the temporary exclusion zone. Under civil injunctions, exclusion zones are similar to criminal search warrants, where the police do not allow access to anyone who is not part of the enforcement team.

      There are both privacy and safety concerns in keeping the public and the media at the perimeter, which should be as small as possible and as brief as possible in the circumstances, based on security and safety needs.

      - According to one of the records, the RCMP stashed carbine rifles on the approach to the roadblock because the “optics” of the weapons were “not good." Would you please explain further how "optics" factored into the RCMP's planning process for this raid? Based on what possible scenario did the RCMP determine it important to bring carbine rifles?

      We don’t have information on this, so unable to respond.

      - The RCMP makes reference in a document to possible child apprehension by social services. Is the RCMP aware of the crisis facing Indigenous children in the contemporary child welfare system, and if so, why would the RCMP take such an approach during the raid?

      The possibility of children being located had to be taken into account in our planning. Depending on the circumstances, Provincial law may require Police to make a report to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. 

      - Ever since the January raid, an RCMP detachment known as the “Community Industry Safety Office” has maintained a large, indefinite presence in the area of CGL pre-construction activities. Could you please tell me more about this detachment -- how many officers are deployed, for how long, and what the mission of the deployment is?

      The Community-Industry Safety Office (C-ISO) was put in place following an extended meeting between the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, Coastal GasLink (CGL) and RCMP on January 10, 2019. At the request of the Hereditary Chiefs for constant police presence, the temporary detachment was placed along the Morice West Forest

      Service Road to allow our officers to conduct roving patrols along the corridor to ensure the safety of the individuals at the Healing Centre and of CGL employees.

      In our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of all individuals involved, the C-ISO will remain in place as long as deemed necessary by the RCMP Community-Industry Response Group Gold Commander.

      Police officers working out of the C-ISO are General Duty police officers and have undergone cultural awareness training provided by elders including a clan chief on the Wet’suwet’en traditions. They also receive enhanced training in conflict resolution. For operational reasons, we are unable to provide an actual number of police officers who work out of the C-ISO.