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Justice (25-42)

RCMP C-IRG unit announces new name, mandate amid federal investigation

April 5, 2024

Community-Industry Response Group became Critical Response Unit in January, Mounties say

Protesters hold a big red banner reading, "RCMP OFF WET'SUWET'EN LAND"
Protesters in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to an LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia block an Ottawa intersection outside the prime minister’s office Feb. 12, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

CBC Indigenous: Dogged for years by complaints, lawsuits, alleged civil and Indigenous rights violations and now an ongoing federal investigation, the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) officially has a new name and mandate.

The outfit, originally tasked with policing protests against resource extraction in British Columbia, became the Critical Response Unit (CRU-BC) on Jan. 1, 2024.

The rebrand aims “to better reflect the scope of work and service that its members are called to,” according to an April 2 update to the unit’s webpage.

“Now named CRU-BC, its members will continue to assist in civil and public order events for natural or human-caused disasters, conduct proactive engagement and, if required, enforcement duties specific to the critical incident.”

The unit was founded in 2017 to address what RCMP call “energy industry (gas and oil pipeline) incidents,” but the update says over time, “as members of the C-IRG gained experience in addressing these large public order events,” they were called to other demonstrations in other areas, leading to the expansion.

Between 2019 and 2021, the unit grabbed national attention for its heavily armed raids on Wet’suwet’en-led blockades as well as its Fairy Creek operation on Vancouver Island in 2021.

The RCMP’s external federal review agency accepted more than 100 formal complaints for investigation against C-IRG, linked mainly to Fairy Creek, and in March 2023 opened a systemic investigation into its operations.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has called for its disbandment on multiple occasions. 

RCMP officers surround a protester cemented into the ground during a protest in Fairy Creek using a technique called a Sleeping Dragon
RCMP officers extract a protester cemented to the ground during a protest in Fairy Creek in 2021. (CBC News)

Na’Moks (John Ridsdale), a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, considers the change a public relations move and a way to sidestep the probe.

“Companies do it all the time. They change their names or become numbered companies. It’s the same process,” he said.

“It’s a stalling tactic. It’s that simple. It doesn’t mean that their goals will change at all.”

The Mounties established C-IRG following 2016’s Native American-led anti-pipeline protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Canadian police were concerned about similar resistance targeting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in B.C., internal documents show.

C-IRG was intended to be a temporary project team but quickly expanded and eventually spent nearly $50 million in five years on its operations.

Recorded mocking activists

In January, a senior Mountie apologized in court after recordings from 2021 in which police called detained First Nations activists “orcs” and “ogres,” while laughing about laying a beating on one of them.

That case is seeking a stay of charges or reduced sentences for three activists convicted of criminal contempt of court on the grounds that police misconduct amounted to an abuse of process.

Pointing to these and other instances of alleged misconduct, Na’Moks argues the unit should have less power, not more.

“All the complaints on their conduct, that should have been enough for them to review it and actually suspend it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa-based Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) initially struggled with delays in receiving relevant information from the RCMP.

A Wet'suwet'en chief in traditional regalia speaks at a microphone.
Na’Moks, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief, speaks in Saskatoon on April 5, 2023. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

Now more than a year into its systemic investigation, the agency says co-operation has improved.

“The CRCC now meets regularly with the RCMP to discuss our requests for information,” said Kate McDerby, director of communications and stakeholder engagement, in an email.

“While delays remain, there has been significant improvement in response time through more frequent communication.”

The commission still can’t provide an anticipated report date, however, McDerby said.


Brett Forester, Reporter

Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.