Skip to content

RCMP prepare to enforce injunction on Wet’suwet’en blockade

Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan Commanding Officer of E Division

The RCMP are preparing to enforce a Supreme Court injunction to remove people blockading Coastal GasLink’s access to land south of Houston. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have steadfastly opposed the construction of a natural gas pipeline through traditional territory, which has resulted in a couple of court injunctions allowing access, the latest on December 31, 2019.

Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan Commanding Officer of E Division issued the following statement regarding the RCMP’s role in enforcing the injunction:

We wanted to provide an update on our efforts in the Houston area, in relation to the dispute surrounding the Coastal GasLink project. 

Since the release of the decision of Madame Justice Church on December 31st, pertaining to the BC Supreme Court Injunction, we resumed efforts to engage in meetings and discussions with all the stakeholders involved – the Hereditary Chiefs, Elected Chiefs and Council, Coastal GasLink, various levels of Governments and other impacted parties.

Over the last 5 weeks, it has been a priority for me as the Commanding Officer to be available for dialogue. I have appreciated the willingness of the Hereditary and Elected Chiefs and Councils to welcome us to their Territory to discuss their concerns. During these meetings, I also sought their guidance on how to address enforcing the BC Supreme Court injunction in a peaceful way.

I have ensured that these conversations were open, honest and confidential. As such, we have been declining multiple requests for media interviews out of immense respect and hope that a possible resolution, whether short term or long term, would be reached.

We welcomed the BC Government’s appointment of Nathan Cullen as a liaison between the Province and the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and we were hopeful to see the results of the Wiggus Development Process. While a formal agreement was not reached in regards to the BC Supreme Court Injunction, we are hopeful that the ongoing dialogue around reconciliation will continue. The RCMP remains committed to any role we may support in reconciliation.

In these conversations with the Hereditary Chiefs and the Elected Chiefs and Council, I have clearly heard there are diverse opinions and positions with respect to a possible way forward. Regardless of where any individual stands on this issue, there is a common concern for everyone’s safety – whether physical, emotional or spiritual. We, the RCMP share that concern and believe there are ways for safe, peaceful and lawful discourse or dissent without violence.

A recent example of this, from British Columbia, was the enforcement of the BC Supreme Court Injunction on Burnaby Mountain. Protesters were able to voice their concerns and if they chose to, be arrested in a non-violent way.

Much of the proactive engagement the RCMP has undertaken over the past year focussed on communication and facilitation.

Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs

Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs, the RCMP’s Criminal Operations Officer, talked the RCMP’s previous operational efforts and some of the recommendations that will be guiding any future actions.

Today, we are in a similar position as last year. Issued on December 31st, a Supreme Court of BC injunction that instructs police to clear the obstructions on the Morice West Forest Service road needs to be enforced.

Again, we have chosen to follow a measured approach that has included over 5 weeks of discussions with the effected parties.

However, as enforcement of the injunction order nears, we’ve assembled a team in the area.

We encourage all of the protestors to abide by the injunction and leave the area and, they will not be arrested.

If there are arrests to be made, there are peaceful options that will require a minimal use of force.

  1. A voluntary peaceful arrest with no force being used that includes no handcuffs.

  2. Those that want to be arrested but will not move, we will carry them away from the area with very little force being applied.

If the above three scenarios do not occur, our members will respond to the behaviors that are presented to them. They are instructed to use the least amount of force that is reasonable to safely arrest a protestor. Similar to last year, we will be filming, this event with the use of Body Worn Cameras, hand held camera and from the air.

We encourage continued dialogue with the RCMP so all people who are breaching the injunction can be arrested safely with no use of force necessary.

Following the enforcement action last year, the RCMP was able to negotiate an agreement between Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and Coastal Gas Link the, which was effective for nearly 12 months.

I credit both the Hereditary Chiefs and the company for making that agreement work this past year.

As well, our constant presence in the area throughout 2019, assisted both parties in managing a few issues that surfaced during the year.

Last year, I ordered an after-action review which included recommendations for improvement and best practices to adopt.

The review resulted in 32 recommendations in various areas of the operation.

Since the completion of the review, we have shared the key results with some First Nations leaders, with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

While I won’t discuss each recommendation, I’ll discuss some of the important areas that were raised by various parties:

  1. The issue surrounding the RCMP’s lawful authority to enforce the injunction has been raised. The review provided this context, and I’ll quote a few sentences: Orders and injunctions from the Supreme Court of British Columbia are not optional invitations or suggestions for the parties and the police. Instead, they are mandatory directions from the Court, police are not at liberty to choose which law to follow.

    As well police do not have the option of refusing to enforce Court Orders and injunctions nor can they…delay that action indefinitely.

    These are key statements that the RCMP have to adhere to.

  2. The use of force deployed by the RCMP during this event has been labeled by some as extreme violence.

    The review concluded the following facts:

    • RCMP members did not punch or kick any of the protestors,
    • RCMP members did not deploy any intermediate weapons. This would include pepper spray, Taser, batons.
    • Of course, firearms were not used.
    • There were no injuries sustained by the protestors or our police officers. One protestor complained of shoulder soreness but was promptly checked by medical personnel and released.

Our mantra for any protest or demonstration is to utilize a measured approach. Extensive efforts were made by our Division Liaison Team and Indigenous Policing Services, to engage with all stakeholders in the hopes that a peaceful resolution would be reached.

I want to be clear, we did learn a great deal in reviewing last year’s enforcement action as well as listening to stakeholders over the last 12 months.

Numerous changes have been incorporated into this year’s planning. This includes the review’s best practices that were identified. For example, cultural awareness training was provided to all deployed resources. This training occurred last weekend by a local elder.

What do you think about this story?