RCMP “E” Division says its “lawful obligations” take priority over Hereditary Chiefs ban on C-IRG on Gitxsan territory
Photo: Heavily-armed RCMP on Gitxsan territory, November 2021.
On March 9, the Terrace Standard reported: “Gitxsan hereditary chiefs issued a notice this week prohibiting the RCMP’s ‘militarized squadron’ called the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) from Gitxsan lands centered on the Hazelton area.”
Their notice reads: “While we embrace safety measures for our community, the militarized squadron of the RCMP [the C-IRG] funded to the tune of $50M, have been sent to terrorize our people at the barrel of a gun during peaceful protests and blockades.”
Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Brian Williams says: “We don’t want the C-IRG army back on our territory again.”
Sim’ooget Gwiiyeehl (Brian Williams)
Now, the CBC reports: “The RCMP says it will not commit to respecting a Gitxsan hereditary chiefs’ decision banning the Mounties’ Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) from unceded lands in northwest B.C.”
RCMP Staff Sgt. Kris Clark says: “While the B.C. RCMP will do everything possible to respect the ban, we have lawful obligations and responsibilities to enforce the Supreme Court Injunction and maintain public safety, which must take priority.”
Clark is the Senior Media Relations Officer with the RCMP’s “E” Division headquarters in Surrey. It was “E” Division that created the C-IRG in 2017.
Chief Superintendent John Brewer is the Gold Commander of the C-IRG. Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald is the Commanding Officer for E Division.
On March 9, Michelaine Lahaie, the Chairperson of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC), initiated a systemic investigation into the activities and operations of the C-IRG.
In January, the CBC had reported: “The RCMP’s federal watchdog agency is weighing its options after receiving nearly 500 formal complaints about a unit tasked with policing resistance to major resource extraction projects in British Columbia.”
Lahaie, a 30-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, was appointed for a five-year term as Chairperson of the CRCC on January 2, 2019.
APTN National News has reported: “Allegations against the [C-IRG] unit [include] ‘intimidation, torture, brutality, harassment, racism, theft, destruction of property, arbitrary detention, inhumanity, lying and deceit.’”
The CRCC investigation, as noted in their terms of reference, will review C-IRG actions at “Salisbury Creek Forestry Road, …on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory, [and] in the Fairy Creek watershed.” While the CRCC says “additional sites may be added”, C-IRG actions on Gitxsan territory are not currently included.
The C-IRG on Gitxsan territory
The CBC article adds: “Following a November 2021 tactical operation on Wet’suwet’en territory, C-IRG officers were shuttled an hour northwest to New Hazelton, B.C., where they broke up a Gitxsan-led solidarity rail blockade.”
On Saturday November 20, Gitxsan land defender Kolin Sutherland-Wilson said: “As a result of their incursions onto Wet’suwet’en territory, their invasion of a sovereign nation using the militarized RCMP, we have set up a railroad blockade here in New Hazelton.”
(In the context of national strike in Colombia, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) commented in June 2021 that blockades fit within the right to protest and that an “absolute prohibition of any blockade” can “distort the exceptional participation” of militarized force and “constitute a disproportionate restriction to freedom of expression, demonstration and assembly.”)
CBC has also reported: “Video shared on Facebook of an arrest at the encampment on [Sunday] Nov. 21 shows four officers on top of a man [Kolin’s 24-year-old brother Denzel] near the rail line. The man is heard shouting, “I can’t breathe!” while the person taking the video screams at the officers to let him go. A second person who tries to intervene is seen being put in a headlock by another officer.”
Video: Denzel Sutherland-Wilson shouts “I can’t breathe!” as RCMP officers tackle him at the Gitxsan railroad blockade in New Hazelton.
In a May 2022 mandate letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, the Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino, wrote: “The Prime Minister has asked me to deliver on the following specific mandate commitments [including] prohibiting the use of neck restraints in any circumstance…” In January 2023, the CBC reported: “A spokesperson for the RCMP [Robin Percival] told CBC News that the national police force has ‘not banned or placed a moratorium on the use of the carotid control technique.’”
Pipelines to be built on Gitxsan territory
Both Calgary-based Enbridge and TC Energy also have permits from British Columbia to build pipelines across Gitxsan land, adjacent to Wet’suwet’en territory.
Wilps Gwininitxw member Ankhla Jennifer Zyp says: “We’re worried, for sure, that we’re going to be met with the same violence [as seen against the Wet’suwet’en], with the same push from the government. We’re concerned about how these pipelines crossing all these rivers are going to affect the salmon returning back to our territory.”
Province allocates $36 million to C-IRG
On March 10, The Tyee reported: “A portion of the $230 million promised last fall by the BC NDP to bolster rural police detachments and make communities safer is earmarked for a controversial RCMP unit tasked with policing resource industry protests.”
It is believed that $36 million will go to the C-IRG.
The article adds: “Funds begin flowing to the RCMP on April 1, according to the province.” There is no word yet from the provincial government if those funds will be withheld given the CRCC systemic investigation now underway.
Mike Farnsworth is the deputy premier of British Columbia since 2021 and has been the minister of public safety and solicitor general since 2017.
On February 21 of this year, PBI-Canada organized a webinar titled “Dismantle the C-IRG, end violence against land defenders” featuring Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’moks, international human rights lawyer Shivangi Misra, activist-academic Keith Cherry and PBI-Canada Board member Seb Bonet.
To watch the video of that webinar, please click here.
We are now planning a second webinar about the C-IRG scheduled for April 16.
Watch for more details on that coming soon.