RCMP defence of C-IRG ignores testimony and audio recordings from recent abuse of process court hearing

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) launching a “systemic investigation” into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG).

The Ottawa-based CRCC began the investigation after receiving nearly 500 complaints about the C-IRG. The CBC has reported: “More than 100 grievances accepted for investigation contain allegations of excessive force, illegal tactics, unprofessional behaviour, racism, discrimination and charter violations.”

Following a Gitxsan-organized protest in Smithers on March 6 calling for the C-IRG to be disbanded, RCMP Staff Sergeant Kris Clark replied to criticisms of the C-IRG in a statement to My Bulkley Lakes Now (published on March 8).

Photo: RCMP Staff Sergeant Kris Clark.

In his statement, Clark refers to the C-IRG as the Critical Response Unit-British Columbia (CRU-BC), the new name for this controversial unit.

Most of the points he makes are directly contradicted by evidence (specifically audio recordings) and testimony from the abuse of process application hearing that took place in Smithers this past January 12-19.

That application, filed by a dozen Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters in February 2023, alleges “the RCMP/CIRG’s enforcement tactics impaired the Applicant’s individual Charter rights, but the police misconduct also displays a systemic disregard for Indigenous rights and sovereignty and the Charter more generally.”

Below we look at Clark’s assertions and testimony from the hearing:

CLARK: “It is important to understand that enforcement actions by the CRU-BC are considered to be a last resort as they are only undertaken once all other avenues to resolve conflict have been exhausted.”

FACT: At the hearing, RCMP Sergeant Ryan Arnold testified that while Emergency Response Teams normally include a negotiator, he wasn’t aware of one on site [for the November 19, 2021, raid on Wet’suwet’en territory]. C-IRG Silver Commander Superintendent James Elliott also testified: “There was not going to be any negotiation.”

CLARK: “When protests are peaceful, lawful and safe, there is no need for CRU-BC intervention but considering the violent attack on the Coastal GasLink site in February 2022, the need for police intervention was very clear.”

FACT: The RCMP C-IRG launched two major raids on the Wet’suwet’en prior to the February 2022 incident. The Guardian reports that the notes from an RCMP strategy session for the January 2019 raid show they were prepared to use lethal force and “as much violence toward the gate as you want” despite their own intelligence saying there was “no single threat indicating that [land defenders] will use firearms”.

CLARK: “While their perception of CRU-BC must be respected, it is also important to understand that there have been no physical injuries as a result of any enforcement actions to date.”

FACT: In an audio recording played at the hearing, an RCMP officer can be heard saying: “Then the fucking guys just beat the shit out of him and then he started crying. I felt bad for him. Apparently, the sergeant grabbed his balls and twisted. I guess he was on the ground and everyone was just grabbing limbs. He didn’t have a limb to grab, so he’s like, just grab his balls, like, ‘You done now? You done resisting?’”

CLARK: “CRU-BC remains uniquely situated, with their specific training and resources, to enforce court injunctions and ensure public safety is maintained in the area, if required.”

FACT: While heavily armed with various weapons on November 19, 2021, C-IRG officers were not equipped with basic “breaching” devices to get past the locked door of the tiny house. Instead, they used axes, a sledgehammer and a chainsaw they found on the site. An officer joked that it was like the scene in the horror film The Shining in which a character breaks through a door and says: “Here’s Johnny.”

CLARK: “While Indigenous people have historically been over-represented amongst missing persons, I can also tell you that, regardless of their race or gender, the safety and wellbeing of any missing person is always the primary concern driving investigative tasks and decisions, and the investigations into those who have gone missing along Highway 16 are no different. The BC RCMP continuously engages external partners and follows up on all investigative leads while also keeping the families updated with regards to the respective searches.”

FACT: While C-IRG Silver Commander Elliott testified at the hearing that C-IRG officers would have had special training on Indigenous cultural sensitivity, an RCMP officer could be heard in an audio recording saying: “They all had the fuckin’ paint like, are you an orc?” This refers to the red handprints that honour missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Photo: A C-IRG officer makes a deeply troubling, insensitive comparison. The CRCC has received other complaints of racism and discrimination by C-IRG officers.

There is still no date or update from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission as to when their systemic investigation will be completed and made public. The last investigation update was posted more than three months ago.

In the meantime, Staff Sgt. Clark has also described the C-IRG as a “national best practice” and noted that its mandate has expanded to include supporting local police forces at what Clark describes as “pro-Hamas” protests.

The abuse of process hearing will resume June 17-21 in Smithers.

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