The federal public safety minister’s office says it has spoken to the RCMP over concerns about language reportedly used by the agency in planning how it would deal with First Nations protesters blockading natural gas pipeline construction in northern B.C.
A spokesman for Bill Blair says they are concerned by a report by British media outlet The Guardian allegedly outlining the RCMP’s strategy to remove the blockade.
“We are committed to protecting the constitutional right to peaceful protest and are concerned by the unacceptable words and phrases that The Guardian reported were used,” Blair’s spokesman Scott Bardsley said in an email.
“Our office has raised this matter with the RCMP.”
In late 2018, Wet’suwet’en members set up checkpoints preventing pipeline project workers from accessing a work site for LNG Canada’s $40 billion liquefied natural gas project.
Though TransCanada had said it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline route, some members of the Wet’suwet’en argued their hereditary chiefs had not agreed and blocked a forest service road leading to the project.
Still, a court injunction allowing the company’s work to continue was granted, and the RCMP were called in to enforce it, dismantling one checkpoint early in January 2019 and arresting 14 people.
Late last week, The Guardian reported it had seen notes from a strategy session suggesting that RCMP commanders instructed officers to use as much violence as they wanted, and that they argued for “lethal overwatch,” a term the newspaper said is used to represent the deployment of snipers.
In a statement on Monday, the RCMP say the force has started a review of all documents relating to its enforcement of the injunction and has not found any that reflect the statements in the newspaper 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,” says the statement from Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald.
“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.”
The RCMP says The Guardian denied a request for the police force to see the documents referred to in the newspaper’s report and they can’t verify the validity of the statements.
“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,” says McDonald, who is the acting commanding officer for the RCMP in British Columbia.
“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 Guardian could not immediately be reached for comment on McDonald’s statement.
The federal New Democrats say they want a full investigation into the issue by both the RCMP’s civilian review and complaints commission and Blair’s office.
NDP public safety critic Jack Harris sent a letter to Blair on Monday, asking him to intervene over the allegations in the article.
“I ask that you urgently respond to the concerns arising, condemn such actions and ensure Indigenous people and the people of Canada that such actions and tactics have no place and will not be tolerated in Canada’s national police force,” Harris wrote.