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Watchdog investigating how B.C. RCMP unit handles resource project protests

Complaints commission will assess if the group followed own policies and the law
A review is underway to look at how RCMP interact with protesters during resource protests like this one at Fairy Creek. (File - Black Press Media)

The RCMP watchdog has launched a systemic investigation of the British Columbia unit that polices anti-logging and pipeline protests, just as a proposed class-action lawsuit is filed in court over the actions of those officers.

Michelaine Lahaie, chairperson of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, says in a statement that the investigation will look into the activities and operations of the RCMP “E” Division Community-Industry Response Group.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court alleges RCMP policies and tactics in enforcing an injunction order at a Vancouver Island old-growth logging protest camp violated the Charter rights of those who had their movements impeded, were arrested, detained or had their property seized.

Court documents say more than 1,000 people have been arrested in relation to enforcing the injunction order at the site called Fairy Creek, and approximately 425 have been prosecuted, primarily on criminal contempt charges.

The statement of claim says RCMP officers made pre-emptive arrests without due process, and assaulted, pushed, dragged and forcefully detained people.

The statement says protesters have been subject to arbitrary searches, their belongings were destroyed, and police have been “herding” people into exclusion zones, while blocking access to forest service roads, preventing medical treatment, and using pepper spray indiscriminately on bystanders.

It says members of the media have been denied the ability to cover events at Fairy Creek, infringing on their freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group was formed in 2017 to provide a co-ordinated response to public order events related to large-scale, resource-based industrial projects in British Columbia.

The complaints commission says in a statement that it plans to assess if the group’s procedures followed the law and its own policies.

“The systemic investigation will also include a comprehensive file review to assess whether or to what extent the activities and operations of the (unit) are carried out in accordance with legal standards, policy requirements, and leading practices,” the statement says.

It says it also intends to look at whether the group’s policies, procedures and training clearly define both the role of the RCMP and the unit, and if those are consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The other factors the commission says it will be considering are if the unit’s operations and actions meet and reflect the federal and B.C. government’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The review will focus on police enforcement of injunctions obtained by Coastal GasLink Ltd. and two forest companies against protests in B.C.’s Kootenay region, on Vancouver Island and on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory where the natural gas pipeline is being built.

RELATED: Fairy Creek arrests surpass 1,000 in Canada’s largest act of civil disobedience