VANCOUVER — The Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chiefs and their supporters want a public investigation into the way the RCMP are controlling access along a rural road in northern British Columbia.
The RCMP have said they set up a checkpoint along the Morice Forest Service Road south of Houston in order to prevent a dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline from escalating.
But the chiefs along with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs allege that the Mounties are unlawfully restricting access on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
They have submitted a complaint to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, asking the chairperson to initiate a policy complaint and public interest investigation.
The RCMP could not immediately be reached for comment.
Harsha Walia, executive director of the civil liberties association, says the application of the RCMP’s enforcement at the checkpoint has been “inconsistent, arbitrary and discriminatory.”
Walia says the coalition has submitted eight first-hand accounts from people turned away as part of the complaint.
“Lawyers, legal council, independent legal observers who are attempting to assist you during this difficult time are also allowed to come through — sometimes, perhaps, one day,” she says. “But the next day they are told the rules have changed and they cannot come through.”
Irina Ceric, a non-practising lawyer who tried to visit supporters at a camp beyond the checkpoint, said she was turned away one day because she didn’t have a two-way radio and tire chains but she was allowed through the next day with no questions from a different officer about her equipment.
“This ever-shifting set of circumstances that may or may not allow you to left in,” she says. “None of which are supported by Canadian law, nevermind Wet’suwet’en law. This has really been an expansion of RCMP authority without lawful grounds.”
The B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction on Dec. 31.
The RCMP have said there is an active criminal investigation underway into traps likely to cause bodily harm after patrol officers found felled trees along the road, and piles of tires with jugs of accelerant and fuel-soaked rags nearby.
“There are no reasonable and probably grounds for RCMP to randomly stop vehicles from passing through and requiring identification of all drivers and passengers,” Walia told a news conference Thursday.
She said the Mounties’ actions are “significant, arbitrary and disproportionate to the stated goal of public safety.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2020.
The Canadian Press
With files from Taya Fast