An RCMP unit under investigation by a federal commissioner will receive 15 per cent of the funding promised for safer communities.
The Tyee: 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, The Tyee has learned.
On Thursday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commissioner for the RCMP announced it will conduct a “systemic investigation” into BC RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group, also known as C-IRG. The unit was established in 2017 to address opposition to pipeline projects like Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink and has also been used to police the ongoing protests over old-growth logging on Vancouver Island.
C-IRG is the subject of several lawsuits related to its conduct and there have been calls from as high up as the United Nations for its disbandment. The unit cost more than $50 million over five years, about half of which was spent policing Coastal GasLink pipeline construction in northern B.C.
When B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General announced in November that it would provide $230 million additional funding to the RCMP “to protect people in urban, rural and remote communities across B.C.,” that included new funding for some specialized policing teams. The province specifically named the major crimes unit, the sexual exploitation of children unit and the BC Highway Patrol.
It said the funding, which was re-announced in last week’s provincial budget, would help “a wide variety of specialized teams that investigate and prevent complex, violent and organized crimes.” The ministry did not mention C-IRG. But documents provided to The Tyee through freedom of information laws show the promised $230 million was divided into two streams, with $36 million — roughly 15 per cent — designated for “police response to unlawful protests.”
Since making the announcement, the Public Safety Ministry has provided few details about where the $230 million promised to the RCMP will be allocated or which communities might benefit. In an email, the ministry said its Policing and Security Branch would work closely with the BC RCMP to fill vacancies in provincial police services and “specialized units such as Major Crime and BC Highway Patrol.” Public safety risks are considered a priority, it said.
Documents obtained by The Tyee indicate that the $230 million promised for policing was the sum of two separate expenditure requests made to B.C.’s Treasury Board. The largest, $194 million, was slated for “core BC RCMP funding,” according to an internal briefing note prepared for the ministry’s Nov. 23 announcement. The rest, $36 million, was intended to “lead a consistent, integrated and impartially administered police response to unlawful protests and public order events across the province.”
The phrasing reflects wording used by the RCMP to describe C-IRG in the force’s April 2021 submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the BC Police Act. “The C-IRG is mandated to ensure a consistent, standardized and impartially administered police response across the province,” it said.
“The C-IRG uses a measured approach in facilitating the peaceful resolution of public disorder issues. They proactively engage all stakeholders through open communication and meaningful dialogue,” it added. “The dynamic political climate for B.C. suggests that public events requiring police presence may become more common in the future, particularly for jurisdictions under B.C.”
An email within the ministry sent two days before the funding announcement contained “a summary of the CORE and C-IRG subs,” apparently referring to submissions to the Treasury Board to gain approval for the expenses.
While a short description of the “core” funding request is present in the email provided to The Tyee, the rest of the summaries, including a section with the heading “C-IRG,” were redacted under sections of B.C.’s freedom of information act that prevent the release of policy advice or information that could harm the economic interests of a public body.
On the day of the funding announcement, Nov. 23, the Public Safety Ministry met with the Treasury Board to discuss policing and public safety in the 2023 budget, according to speaking notes included in the documents. A table of contents for the meeting included four items: speaking notes, core policing, court-ordered injunctions and “TBS fact check,” apparently referring to the Treasury Board submissions being presented. Details of the meeting were omitted under sections of the act that protect cabinet confidences and policy advice.
In an internal RCMP email, circulated to the force’s B.C. staff and shared with the Public Safety Ministry, BC RCMP commanding officer Dwayne McDonald confirmed that a portion of the new money will be spent on C-IRG.
Calling the $230 million “an unprecedented investment” in B.C. policing, McDonald credited the force’s close work with BC Policing and Security Branch, a section of the Public Safety Ministry, for providing the funds to fill long-standing vacancies at detachments and “also expand some specialized units, such as the Major Crimes Section, Integrated Child Exploitation, Community Industry Response Group and Highway Patrol.”
“Policing is a significant line item on the province’s budget,” he said, noting B.C.’s provincial RCMP costs are about $480 million a year. “The effects of the global pandemic, weather-related disasters, rising costs, growing demands for government services and overall efforts towards economic recovery has limited investments in policing — until now.”
When asked this week to confirm the $36 million would go to C-IRG and provide more details about where remaining funds would be spent, an RCMP spokesperson said it was too soon to comment.
The Public Safety Ministry did not immediately respond to The Tyee’s questions about whether the $36 million would go exclusively to C-IRG and if they would be provided up front or administered over three years, like the rest of the funding. Funds begin flowing to the RCMP on April 1, according to the province. The funding is in addition to B.C.’s agreement with the federal government, which sees the province paying 70 per cent of all provincial policing services provided by the RCMP.
An APTN investigation into C-IRG found that industry is not required to pay for the unit’s services and that “supplemental funding for policing operations” are left to provincial and federal governments. The unit was designed to be “scalable and subject to change based on protest-related activity,” according to the report.
In its first five years, up until July 31, 2022, C-IRG spent nearly $50 million policing pipeline conflicts and old-growth logging protests in B.C. More than half that, roughly $25 million, was dedicated to policing the first three years and three months of the Coastal GasLink pipeline conflict, from the beginning of 2019 through March 31, 2022.
In the midst of a movement to “defund” policing, there have been calls to disband the C-IRG unit that go all the way up to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In an April 2022 letter, the committee noted escalated use of “force, surveillance and criminalization” against land defenders by the unit and called on police to withdraw from Indigenous territories where First Nations oppose pipeline construction.
The BC Federation of Labour unanimously passed a resolution at its annual convention a day after the province’s November announcement that called for C-IRG to be disbanded and for greater oversight of RCMP operations on Indigenous lands.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have asked RCMP to leave their traditional territory since RCMP first established the Community-Industry Safety Office, a remote base for C-IRG operations on the nation’s territory, near the Morice Forest Service Road in early 2019. In early 2020, the Chiefs made the removal of the C-ISO detachment a condition of meeting with provincial and federal governments. While the talks went ahead, resulting in a memorandum of understanding to move forward on the nation’s land title discussions, the detachment remains.
Although there have been no large-scale police actions on Wet’suwet’en territory since November 2021, RCMP spending on the Morice increased early last year after an anonymous attack on a Coastal GasLink work site in February 2022. While the force said at the time it would send 40 investigators to the area, it has never identified any suspects or made any arrests in relation to the incident.
Concerns have also been raised over the conduct of C-IRG officers at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, where police have made more than 1,100 arrestsat anti-old-growth logging protests. In 2021, logging company Teal-Jones briefly lost its injunction against protesters when B.C. Supreme Court Judge Douglas Thompson ruled that C-IRG’s “methods of enforcement of the court’s order have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press.”
The same year, a C-IRG officer quit the unit over concerns of misconduct. The officer outlined those concerns in a report obtained by Canada’s National Observer. It alleged that RCMP officers had smashed the windows of vehicles parked in the injunction zone, seized and possibly destroyed personal property and improperly handled protesters. The unnamed officer also described officers removing ID tags, wearing controversial thin blue line patches and displaying a cozy relationship with industry workers and private security.
“I saw enough to know that I did not want to be involved and actions were certainly a departure from what we practise at our home detachments,” the officer reported.
The force now faces a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday in the B.C. Supreme Court that alleges police infringed on Charter rights of the public and the media while enforcing Teal-Jones’s injunction at Fairy Creek.
Also included in the Nov. 23 briefing note prepared for the province’s funding announcement are speaking points on how to address questions around the “over-policing of Indigenous and racialized communities.”
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“It is critical that we continuously and actively work to combat racism in all its forms — especially within our institutions that are expected to keep people safe,” was the suggested response. “By better supporting specialized units and filling vacancies in rural areas, we are alleviating pressure across the system to help law enforcement be more responsible to the people they serve.”
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commissioner’s review of the C-IRG detachment will also examine concerns over systemic racism. Its terms of reference mandates the police oversight body to look into whether C-IRG operations are “consistent with… the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and calls for justice from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.
The investigation will also look at whether C-IRG operations align with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and reflect previous CRCC recommendations.
Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.