Today, the B.C. RCMP issued a statement that has drawn a great deal of media attention. And understandably so.
The Mounties said officers with the Houston detachment are "investigating an incident where individuals allegedly engaged in a violent confrontation with employees of Coastal GasLink".
In addition, these individuals also confronted "attending police officers along the Morice River Forest Service Road".
"It was reported approximately 20 people, some armed with axes, were attacking security guards and smashing their vehicle windows," the RCMP stated. "It was initially reported that some CGL employees were trapped, but all had managed to safely leave the area."
So let's review this for a moment. Twenty people, some wielding axes, descended on a work site and nobody was injured and nobody was arrested?
That's not all. The Mounties also said that several people threw smoke bombs and fire-lit sticks at police as they were working their way through debris and traps set at the 41-kilometre mark of the road, where fires had also been lit.
Again, there's no mention of any arrests.
The photos are very dramatic, including images of massive pieces of machinery turned on their side. Looking at the pictures below, some might wonder if vandals would need heavy equipment to upend these vehicles. If so, how was this accomplished?
"This is a very troubling escalation in violent criminal activity that could have resulted in serious injury or death. This was a calculated and organized violent attack that left its victims shaken and a multimillion dollar path of destruction," Chief Superintendent Warren Brown said in the news release.
"While we respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest in Canada, we cannot tolerate this type of extreme violence and intimidation," he continued. "Our investigators will work tirelessly to identify the culprits and hold them accountable for their actions."
Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is clearly alarmed, judging from his statement about what happened.
The timing of this news is interesting.
First, it came shortly after Coastal GasLink disclosed that its pipeline project was significantly over budget.
Secondly, the RCMP news release came on the same day that police in Ottawa were finally taking action against mostly white demonstrators who've been treated far more gently than those peacefully protesting the pipeline project.
Thirdly, the release landed as the RCMP is itself under fire for an incredibly heavy-handed response to peaceful demonstrators on traditional Wet'suwet'en territory in November. That occurred just as the province was coping with monumental floods that had destroyed major infrastructure in several parts of the province.
Mounties missed the mark before
In the past the RCMP has tried to portray nonviolent opposition to oil and gas infrastructure on traditional Wet'suwet'en territory as "violent extremism". That's been disputed by Indigenous protesters, who labelled it a "smear campaign".
That's not the only time the Mounties have been accused of trying to discredit people.
Back in 2014, a former RCMP psychologist, Mike Webster, alleged that the Mounties ran a smear campaign against him after he had criticized the force's policy on medical leave.
Then there was the force's own admission in 1995. That's when an RCMP sergeant and media-relations liaison Peter Montague said on videotape that "smear campaigns are our specialty".
This was in connection with how the Mounties were portraying demonstrators on unceded Indigenous territory near Gustafsen Lake.
There have been other scandalous statements from the RCMP over the years.
For instance in 2003 when Mounties raided the legislature, RCMP spokesperson John Ward declared that "organized crime has stretched into every corner of B.C.", reaching "epidemic proportions".
According to a post by Bill Tieleman, the RCMP had actually been instructed by a member of the special prosecutor's team that this statement was incorrect—organized crime had not penetrated the legislature. Yet Ward still included it in a statement to the media.
Then in 2016, then B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce delivered a damning decision about the Mounties' conduct in their investigation of two Surrey residents, John Stewart Nuttall and Amanda Marie Korody.
According to Bruce's ruling, the RCMP "engaged in a multi-faceted and systematic manipulation of the defendants to induce them into committing a terrorist offence".
Her judgment stated that the undercover operation was rooted in police "deceit", which constituted an "implied threat" against the two accused.
There are other examples I could cite. There was an RCMP whopper told to the media in the immediate aftermath of the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007. When the officer wanted to correct the record, superior officers refused the request, according to his widow.
The bottom line is that the RCMP has a track record of hyperbole when making outlandish statements about major events.
We would all wise to keep this in mind in connection with media reports of axe-wielding assailants attacking security guards yet leaving nobody injured—and then throwing smoke bombs and fire-lit sticks at police with impunity deep in the wilderness.
It may all be true, of course. But it would be nice to see more evidence than a handful of photos and written statements from the RCMP, the solicitor general, and Coastal GasLink.
Indigenous activist Gord Hill has presented his explanation for what happened. You can read his perspective below, which throws some cold water on conspiracy theories.