Full RCMP response regarding Coastal Gaslink blockade

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald has released the following statement regarding a recent article by the The Guardian allegedly outlining the RCMP's strategy to remove First Nations protesters blockading the Coastal Gaslink pipeline in northern B.C.:

"The RCMP has successfully worked with stakeholders, including indigenous communities to peacefully resolve dozens of contentious issues including many that have included blockades or occupations over recent years. Ensuring public and police safety is always our first priority. In this case, the senior Commander‘s plan, specifically directed that any operation. “Protect lives and reduce potential for injuries to participants and others engaged in protest-related activities, the general public, police officers and other first responders; and minimize opportunities for persons to commit criminal acts against persons and property.”

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"Unfortunately, as a result of the unsubstantiated, incomplete and inflammatory nature of the article published in the Guardian last week, relationships between the RCMP and all stakeholders that have been years in the making, have been damaged and now require rebuilding. The RCMP has reached out to request a meeting with Hereditary Chiefs and is hopeful this meeting will soon occur.

"It is important to note that the RCMP requested to see the documents referenced in the article, and was denied. 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. 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.

"In the interim, the RCMP has commenced a review of all documents relating to the enforcement of the court ordered injunction and to date can find no documents or references, which reflect statements made in the article. Whatever the source, the assertions made in the article do not in any respect reflect the spirit and intent of the direction of the RCMP Commanders charged with planning and carrying out the court’s direction, nor does it reflect what actually occurred.

"There are a number of terms used in the article that are not generally used by the RCMP during operational planning and others that may be used but in our opinion have been taken out of context, both of which are concerning.

"Most concerning is the reference to lethal overwatch, which from a RCMP perspective and indeed police forces around the world, relates to an observation position taken 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. This term does not indicate action other than observation with a capability to use lawful force should a threat present itself.

"The RCMP will make every effort to facilitate protests and demonstrations that are peaceful, lawful and safe. When the police are required to enforce a Court order, the RCMP is impartial and not a neutral party in the enforcement of the rule of law, which applies to everyone. In this case, the RCMP was required to enforce a British Columbia Supreme Court injunction order at the site. The court order outlined specific arrest and release processes, all of which were followed by the RCMP. In fact, the RCMP sought clarity with the judge to ensure the enforcement was carried out in a manner as intended by the court.

"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 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.

"We wanted to provide a fulsome response, including the initial one given to The Guardian with hopes that further dissemination of inaccurate information that does not reflect the RCMP’s intentions or actions would cease.

"The reporter reached out to us with a list of questions, our responses are copied below for reference. Previously issued news releases with respect to our actions are linked below.

RCMP Statement Following Agreement with Wet’suwet’en

Update on RCMP’s enforcement of injunction in Houston, BC

Fourteen arrested during enforcement of injunction order in Houston, BC

What to expect during police enforcement of court ordered injunction in Houston, BC

Background on BC RCMP’s role in enforcing injunction order

"Response provided to the Guardian

"Hi Will,

"As indicated yesterday, our ability to respond to your questions are limited without seeing or reviewing the documents you are referring to. We have provided responses to your questions below, however, would like to provide you with a general context as to our role in Houston.

"First we would like to clarify that the conflict between the oil and gas industries, Indigenous communities, and governments all across BC has been ongoing for a number of years. Since the approval of the Coastal GasLink project, the RCMP has been engaged with the Hereditary Chiefs and other individuals and stakeholders directly and indirectly impacted by the blockade located at the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre in traditional Wet’suwet’en Territory.

"On December 14, 2018, the BC Supreme Court issued an interim injunction order against persons who interfere with the Coastal GasLink project in and around the Morice River Bridge or the area accessed by the Morice West Forest Service Road. We had hoped, through the RCMPs Division Liaison Team and Indigenous Policing Section, the terms of the injunction order would be met through dialogue and the need for enforcement would not be required. After the injunction order was issued, a second blockade was erected on Morice River Bridge. The RCMP directly engaged stakeholders to make every effort to peacefully resolve the issue ahead of any enforcement action, including multiple attempts to request the protesters to remove the blockade.

"Unfortunately, all efforts did not result in an agreement, and the RCMP enforced the court-ordered injunction later in the day on January 7, 2019. This was never a raid, and so we would request that you refrain from using the term in reference to our presence there.

"- 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."

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