Current Problems

Justice (25-42)

Watchdog opens probe into RCMP unit that polices resource standoffs in B.C.

March 9, 2023

Terms of reference in Community-Industry Response Group ‘systemic investigation’ announced

On Jan. 7, 2019, RCMP enforced an injunction ordering people to stop preventing Coastal GasLink workers from accessing a road and bridge. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

CBC News: The RCMP’s federal watchdog agency is opening a probe into the activities and operations of the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG), a special unit that polices protests against resource extraction in British Columbia.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), which receives and oversees public grievances against the Mounties, posted the terms of reference for the probe on its website Thursday morning. According to the terms of reference, the watchdog will conduct a comprehensive review known as a systemic investigation and focus on the C-IRG’s authorities and accountability.

The watchdog will assess whether the unit’s operations are consistent with the charter, legislation on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

In an email sent to stakeholders Wednesday and obtained by CBC News, the CRCC said systemic investigations allow the CRCC to examine RCMP programs and operations holistically and impartially. “In conducting a file review, the CRCC can examine individual member conduct for the purposes of identifying trends, gaps, or deficiencies in policy, procedure, training, supervision, planning or leadership,” the email said.

The CRCC, led by chairperson Michelaine Lahaie, is not part of the force. It previously said it was “exploring options” to address hundreds of complaints made about the C-IRG.

Michelaine Lahaie sits and speaks as part of a roundtable  discussion.
Michelaine Lahaie is chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The RCMP’s “E” Division in B.C. created the C-IRG in 2017 to prepare for Indigenous and environmental activism targeting the Trans Mountain expansion and Coastal GasLink pipelines, its founding policing plans say. But in recent years accusations of bad behaviour, lawsuits and complaints have hounded the unit, revealing allegations of charter violations, excessive force, racism and more.

Many of the allegations are untested or unproven, and the squad’s commanding officer denies them. 

On top of handling complaints, the CRCC can conduct reviews of specified RCMP activities to ensure compliance with legislation, regulation, ministerial direction or RCMP policies, procedures and guidelines. The CRCC said it has completed five systemic investigations with the RCMP accepting the vast majority of the recommendations. Among other things, the watchdog said these probes can examine RCMP activities strategically, over several years, to identify deficiencies and systemic issues.

The C-IRG generally deploys to enforce injunctions where First Nations groups or environmental activists mount resistance to resource projects.

Activists in raincoats look to a Mountie.
Anti-logging protesters and RCMP officers at Fairy Creek. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC)

The unit has deployed SWAT teams, crowd-control squads, dogs and helicopters to Wet’suwet’en territory to dismantle blockades interfering with the $14.5-billion Coastal GasLink project.

The company has an injunction, permits from the B.C. government and benefit agreements with five of six Wet’suwet’en elected councils, but it faces opposition from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who say it requires their approval to build through unceded territory. In 2021, the unit enforced an injunction against blockades against old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek area on Vancouver Island, sparking many of the CRCC complaints.

The CRCC investigation will focus on these two operations, plus a third from 2022 conducted against anti-logging demonstrations near Argenta, B.C.

The C-IRG has also led ongoing operations for the $21.4 billion Trans Mountain expansion, which would twin an existing pipeline carrying oil from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., near Vancouver.  The expansion faces opposition from the Tiny House Warriors, a First Nations-led group fighting the project on unceded territory near Blue River, B.C.

This operation is not covered by the probe.


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.