Last week’s removal of a blockade on Forest Service road south of Houston was “challenging,” says RCMP Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs.
On January 7, police enforced a court injunction at the Gidimt’en camp, to allow Coastal Gaslink workers through to begin work on a natural gas pipeline. Fourteen people were arrested.
“The protestors’ reaction to the police ranged from passive resistance to active resistance, to actual assaultive behaviour,” said Stubbs during a media availability in Surrey Monday. “One person secured themselves to the barricade, making climbing over the gate necessary. Two others attached themselves to the underside of a bus that was blocking access to the bridge. Another was suspended in a hammock off the side of the bridge.”
There were also several fires in the area that, Stubbs says, created safety concerns for the protestors, media, and the RCMP.
“Given the remoteness of the location and the unpredictable nature of what we could have faced, we developed an operational plan that involved moving more police officers into the area,” said Stubbs. “…I appreciate that for those directly involved with the police at the barricade, it was an emotional situation.”
The injunction, granted December 14, was initially a result of the Unist’ot’en camp, erected several years ago by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, blocking access to the Morice West Forest Service Road. After the injunction, a second blockade was erected, known as the Gidimt’en camp. It was this second blockade that was dismantled last Monday.
“We had hoped, through the RCMP Divisional Liaison Team and the Indigenous Policing Section, the terms of the injunction order would be met through dialogue and the need for enforcement would not be required,” said Stubbs, who added all officers at the scene had received cultural awareness training.
As is with any major police operation, a review will be conducted, said Stubbs. RCMP will use video footage from body-cameras on the officers involved as well as video footage shot from a drone and a helicopter.
“To date, we have not identified any issues regarding police officer conduct,” said Stubbs. “However, it is important that we engage with the hereditary chiefs and any other involved persons to make sure they are aware of the independent complaint process available to them.”
Following the removal of the Gidimt’en blockade on Monday, an agreement was reached between the hereditary chiefs and the RCMP on Thursday to allow access. That agreement is being enacted and there were no issues over the weekend.
Stubbs said the RCMP are also in the process establishing temporarily detachment in the area. The hereditary chiefs will provide cultural training to the officers stationed there.
“I want to thank the hereditary chiefs for their active engagement with the RCMP last week,” Stubb said. “Their willingness to sit down with us for numerous hours resulted in an agreement. The level of trust between the hereditary chiefs and the RCMP now in place, will continue to play a direct and positive role going forward.”