In the News April 1
BC Government’s Authorization of Police Violence
Against Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders
Public Safety Ministry Approved Provincial Policing Operations During Historic Flooding
Internal emails obtained through freedom of information laws reveal that in November 2021 extra policing resources for the violent arrest of Wet’suwet’en land and water defenders in northern BC was approved at the same time as the province was facing unprecedented flooding. They show that BC’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General officials worked together to provide provincial police resources even though the province had declared a state of emergency over flooding and landslides that killed four people. The Wet’suwet’en and their supporters were peacefully blocking a remote resource road on Wet’suwet’en territory.
The emails contradict statements made by RCMP Chief Superintendent John Brewer, Gold Commander with the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG), which polices resource extraction conflicts. Brewer said in early December that the November 18-19 police operation “certainly wasn’t planned during floods,” adding that it “was being planned to open up that road before the floods hit.”
Following multiple requests made by Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the province’s Public Safety Ministry finally confirmed that Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth had given verbal approval to deploy provincial resources to the north the same day flooding overtook areas of the Lower Mainland, southern Interior and Vancouver Island, on the early morning of November 15.
The ministry continued to finalize those resources and monitor the unfolding situation on the Morice Road, which subsequently resulted in the November 18-19 RCMP takedown operation.
November 14 was when members of the Gidimt’en Clan set up a blockade to enforce its notice of eviction to Coastal GasLink, giving eight hours notice and then a two hour extension for the company to remove the workers from its camps.
Verbal approval for provincial resources for the police action was given by Farnworth on the morning of November 15, as the province scrambled to respond to the flooding that had caused landslides shortly after midnight the same day.
“We are going to marshal resources to open the Morice FSR [Forest Service Road] as soon as practicable,” Brewer had written in an email sent just before 10 am that day to members of the RCMP and the Public Safety Ministry. “Given the known numbers and posture of the contemnors causing the blockade,” he wrote, “I will need resources in the Tactical Support Group (TAC, ERT) to accomplish this,” in reference to activists allegedly violating a civil injunction, as well as the blue- and green-clad police groups that enforce it.
Brewer said these units have members from federal, provincial and municipal levels, so he needed verbal and electronic authorization to redeploy them under Article 9.1 of the Provincial Police Service Agreement. The 20-year agreement with the federal government allows BC to internally redeploy the RCMP to deal with emergency situations if, in the opinion of the Provincial Minister, one is deemed to exist. Also, the province is responsible for 70 per cent of costs for resources provided under the agreement.
Confirming that he would “follow up in writing,” Brewster added that “time is of the essence right now,” noting that the timeline for enforcement was November 16 to 23 followed by “a period of time to assess and hold the Morice FSR until it can be turned over to C[-]IRG as per normal operations.”
Brewster received an email reply later that morning from Ward Lymburner, the Public Safety Ministry’s Executive Director for police agreements and law enforcement administration, saying that Public Safety Assistant Deputy Minister Wayne Rideout had confirmed Minister Farnworth’s verbal approval for the response.
In a meeting with the press that same morning, Farnworth defended what some had called the government’s slow response and lack of warnings about the flooding, saying the landslides were “unpredictable.” His reply came at a time when up to 100 vehicles were trapped on Highway 7, Search and Rescue crews were on the ground, helicopter rescues were being planned and evacuation orders were in effect.
The following morning, November 16, in BC’s Legislative Assembly, Farnworth addressed the situation on the Morice Service Road, saying “an illegal blockade is not acceptable. We are working very closely in terms of dealing with CGL [Coastal GasLink] and the situation for those workers behind those blockade lines and, at the same time, being in regular contact with the RCMP in terms of ensuring that, as much as possible, we can get this situation resolved and de-escalated in a way that reduces the potential for conflict, which I don’t think anybody wants to see.”
That afternoon, as the province announced the first of several fatalities as a result of landslides, Lymburner emailed with several ministry officials, including Assistant Deputy Minister Wayne Rideout, requesting their input on a draft letter formalizing the province’s policing contributions in the north.
As the independent BC online news magazine The Tyee notes, “The irony of sending policing resources to address pipeline opposition while dealing with one of the worst climate change disasters in the province’s history was not lost on many BC residents.”
1. The Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) was created in 2017 “to provide strategic oversight addressing energy industry incidents and related public order, national security and crime issues.” “The group operates under the Gold Silver Bronze [GSB] command structure, which is a framework for delivering strategic, tactical and operational response to an incident, operation or event. Under the GSB structure, processes are established to facilitate the flow of information in order to ensure that decisions are communicated effectively and documented as part of an audit trail.”
2. Contemnor is a legal term for someone who is in contempt of the law. An injunction granted to Coastal GasLink by the BC Supreme Court bans anyone from blocking access to pipeline worksites or access roads.
3. The total cost for policing the Morice Road over the past three years has surpassed $21 million.
(With files from The Tyee, APTN National News, Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Royal Canadian Mounted Police)
Renewal Update, posted April 1, 2022.