Report finds stops, searches of protesters 'unlawful': Watchdog
Published Thursday, February 20, 2020 11:33AM PST Last Updated Thursday, February 20, 2020 1:08PM PST
Protesters in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs camp out in front of legislature before the throne speech in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
VANCOUVER -- A civilian police watchdog has released what Indigenous advocates in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs are calling an “explosive” letter condemning RCMP actions against Indigenous protesters.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP alleging Mounties unlawfully restricted access to a remote logging road in northern British Columbia before they enforced an injunction this month on behalf of Coastal GasLink.
The association filed statements on behalf of eight Wet'suwet'en members and supporters who say they were turned away from the area when trying to deliver supplies, give legal support or visit pipeline opponents at a camp along the road.
Commission chairperson Michelaine Lehaie says in a nine-page response letter that she won't begin a public interest investigation because she doesn't want to delay the resolution of issues being raised.
She says similar issues and allegations against the RCMP have already been raised and investigated and she believes there is “significant” public interest in addressing them.
She says her unpublished report about RCMP actions in 2013 against Indigenous-led anti-shale gas protests in Kent County, N.B., found RCMP stop checks went beyond the limited purpose mandated by the courts and were inconsistent with the charter rights of vehicle occupants.
She says the Commission found there was no legal authority to require passengers to produce identification at stop checks in that case and that routine vehicle searches of individuals entering the protesters' campsites were not authorized by law.
Lehaie sent her report to the Mounties in March 2019 but has yet to receive a response from the RCMP Commissioner.
“The report that has been completed is absolutely explosive,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said at a news conference in Vancouver.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde, director of the University of British Columbia's Indian Residential School and Dialogue Centre, said the fact that the RCMP has not responded to the commissioner almost a year after receiving the report raises questions about the civilian oversight body's power to compel the RCMP to act.
The people who filed the complaint in 2013 have yet to see the report and she said a seven-year delay in justice is unacceptable.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Turpel-Lafonde said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.