RCMP to respond soon to Commission report on police actions against Miꞌkmaq land defenders opposed to fracking

Published by Brent Patterson on

Amanda Polchies of the Elsipogtog Nation holds a feather in a powerful gesture of resistance to advancing RCMP officers, October 17, 2003. Photo by Ossie Michelin.

On June 12, CBC reported on the review by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission into Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) actions over several months in 2013 against Indigenous land defenders and allies opposed to fracking on unceded Miꞌkmaq territory in Kent County, New Brunswick, Canada.

The Commission, which is not part of the RCMP, conducts reviews when complainants are not satisfied with the RCMP’s handling of their complaints.

Background

On October 17, 2013, hundreds of RCMP officers lined up across a road near a protest encampment established by the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick. Mi’kmaq land defenders had established the camp in opposition to seismic testing for fracking being conducted on their territories by Houston-based SWN Resources.

The following day, Vice reported: “What started out as a peaceful demonstration held by members of First Nations tribes turned into what resembled a war zone after the RCMP showed up with guns, Tasers, and dogs yesterday in New Brunswick, leading to five police cars getting torched and 40 people being arrested on charges ranging from intimidation, uttering threats, and mischief.”

In May 2019, Ann Pohl wrote: “The federal Civilian Commission got its first complaints about human rights violations by the RCMP six years ago, and the public still has not seen their report. Apparently, it has been languishing in ‘final edit’ stage for months.”

In September 2019, the CBC reported: “In an email, a spokesperson for the commission confirmed the … report was delivered to the RCMP last March. When the RCMP commissioner’s office reacts, the commission will prepare its final report, the spokesperson said.”

The CBC has previously explained: “The commission cannot prepare a final report until the RCMP commissioner responds, which also means the findings can’t be disclosed [to the public until that happens].”

Commission report and RCMP response

The CBC article published on June 12 notes that while the report still has not been made public, the Chair of the Commission Michelaine Lahaie says the report “found that in general terms and with certain exceptions, RCMP members did not demonstrate bias in general, or engage in differential treatment of Indigenous protesters when making arrests.”

The article adds: “Earlier this week, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she agrees with most of the recommendations in the report and 15 months after receiving it, the RCMP will provide its response this week.”

Concerns

The article highlights that Lorraine Clair “says she’s appalled an investigation into public complaints against the police has concluded the Mounties did not use excessive force or demonstrate bias against Indigenous protesters.”

It notes that she was hospitalized on two different occasions after being manhandled by the RCMP, including being handcuffed so tightly that both of her wrists were bleeding and that one of her arms, that was fractured, then broke.

The article also reports that on another occasion Clair “walked into the woods to go to the bathroom and an officer followed her into the trees. She said he slammed her onto the ground and put the full force of his weight on his knee that was planted between her shoulder blades. ‘He told me to, ‘Roll over, f–king bitch.’’ Clair, who said she was sexually abused as a kid, said that triggered intense fear and panic.”

Human rights obligations

The Global Affairs Canada document Voices at Risk outlines guidelines for Canadian embassies around the world with respect to human rights defenders.

Voices at Risk states: “Land rights and environmental HRDs often work in rural and isolated areas where limited state presence and communications challenges compound risks of violence and impunity. Land rights are often tied to the rights of Indigenous peoples, and in these contexts, individuals may face additional challenges, including marginalization. In many cases, failure to investigate and prosecute threats or attacks against land or environmental defenders can create a climate of impunity, which can lead to further attacks.”

Peace Brigades International-Canada awaits the response of the RCMP Commissioner and the release of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission report.

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