RCMP Statement Following Agreement with Wet’suwet’en
Statement issued by A/Commr. Eric Stubbs, Criminal Operations – CORE Policing (BC RCMP)
Thank you for attending today. I wanted to provide some comments around the enforcement actions and discussions that took place last week that ultimately led to an agreement between the RCMP and Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. I also want to provide you with the plan moving forward.
Since the approval of the Coastal Gaslink project, the RCMP has been engaged with the Hereditary Chiefs and other individuals and stakeholders directly and indirectly impacted by the blockade located at the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre in traditional Wet’suwet’en Territory.
Those efforts intensified last month after the BC Supreme Court issued an interim injunction order against persons who interfere with the Coastal GasLink project. With this order in place, there are expectations from the court that police will enforce the conditions outlined by the Justice.
We had hoped, through the RCMPs Division Liaison Team and Indigenous Policing Section, the terms of the injunction order would be met through dialogue and the need for enforcement would not be required. After the injunction order was issued, a second blockade was erected on forestry road. The RCMP directly engaged stakeholders to make every effort to peacefully resolve the issue ahead of any enforcement action.
Given the remoteness of the location and the unpredictable nature of what we could have faced, we did develop an operational plan that included moving additional police resources into the area. I should add, that during the operational briefing, all RCMP members received cultural awareness training from local Indigenous leaders.
On January 7th the RCMP approached a blockade referred to as the Gidimt’en Camp. Both RCMP and the company were refused access. The RCMP facilitated the attendance of the Hereditary Chiefs to allow discussions with the protestors in an attempt to resolve the matter prior to enforcement. Unfortunately, all efforts did not result in an agreement. Late in the day, enforcement action commenced while sufficient daylight was still available to ensure safety.
Initially, the primary role of those officers deployed over the barricade was to make the situation safe so the gate could be safely removed by the company, as per the order.
The situation was challenging – the protestors reaction to the police ranged from passive resistance, to active resistance to actual assaultive behaviour. One person secured themselves to the barricade making climbing over the gate necessary. Two others attached themselves to the underside of a bus that was blocking access to the bridge. Another was suspended in a hammock off the side of the bridge.
Also present, were fires nearby which caused significant concerns over the safety of protestors, media and the police at the scene. 14 protesters were arrested and others left the area without any further interactions with police.
I appreciate that for those directly involved with police at the barricade it was an emotional situation. I understand there are some concerns surrounding our actions on January 7th.
As with any major operation, we will be conducting an after-action review that will produce recommendations to address any issues or concerns and identify the areas of our operation that went well.
To assist in our review there is ample video evidence available. This includes the use of body worn cameras, drone and helicopter video, video recorded by our forensic ident personnel and that video which is publicly available already.
To date, we have not yet identified any issues regarding police officer conduct. However, it is important we engage with the Hereditary Chiefs and any other involved persons to ensure that they are aware of the independent public complaint process available to them.
After the arrests on Monday, our Division Liaison Team and the senior commanders who were on-site in support of the operation, worked to establish a dialogue with all impacted parties. In particular, with the Hereditary Chiefs. Those efforts resulted in an agreement on Thursday between the RCMP and the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.
The agreement allowed for access by the company, across the Morice River Bridge by the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre. As well, the ability for the temporary exclusion zone to be removed, and a framework for the continued police presence in the area moving forward.
This weekend, the implementation of the agreement has occurred without any significant issues. We are currently in the process of bringing in our temporary detachment that will support the safety in the area for all persons. The Hereditary Chiefs have kindly offered to provide cultural awareness training to all members assigned and to ensure that a traditional process is followed to welcome the detachment to the territory.
The RCMP officers that were present during our operation on January 7th encountered an extremely challenging situation. I am grateful that no one was seriously injured during the arrests. That includes our members and the protestors.
I want to thank the Hereditary Chiefs for their active engagement with the RCMP last week. Their willingness to sit down with us for numerous hours resulted in the agreement. It’s clear to me – the level of trust between the RCMP and the Hereditary Chiefs now in place will continue to play a direct and positive role going forward.
This will be our focus, to keep everyone safe in the area and to continue dialogue with all parties.
BC RCMP Communication Services