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RCMP to review pipeline blockade arrests

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SURREY, B.C.—The RCMP will review the actions of officers who arrested 14 people at an indigenous pipeline blockade in northwestern British Columbia, and also erect a temporary detachment to maintain safety in the area.

The Mounties enforced a court injunction Jan. 7 allowing Coastal GasLink workers and contractors access to a work site where a natural gas pipeline is planned near Houston, B.C.

Assistant commissioner Eric Stubbs held a news conference yesterday to provide more details about the police operation, in the wake of criticism from indigenous leaders that the use of force was excessive.

“I appreciate that for those directly involved with the police at the barricade, it was an emotional situation,” Stubbs said.

“I also understand that there are some concerns surrounding our actions on Jan. 7.”

The RCMP will conduct a review of the incident that will produce recommendations to address any issues and identify the parts of the operation that went well, as it does with any major operation, Stubbs noted.

There is ample evidence available to assist with the review, including the use of body-worn cameras, drone and helicopter video, and publicly-available video, he added.

“To date, we have not yet identified any issues regarding police officer conduct," Stubbs said. "However, it is important that we engage with the hereditary chiefs and any other involved persons.”

He noted police have been engaging with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs since the approval of the pipeline, which would carry natural gas to an export terminal in Kitimat as part of a $40-billion LNG Canada project.

“We had hoped . . . the terms of the injunction order would be met through dialogue and the need for enforcement would not be required,” Stubbs remarked.

After the court order was issued, protesters erected a second blockade on a forestry road.

Given the remoteness of the location and the unpredictable situation, Mounties developed an operational plan that included moving additional forces into the area, Stubbs said.

Local indigenous leaders gave officers cultural awareness training as a part of the plan, he added.

The RCMP made “every effort” to peacefully resolve the situation, but could not reach a deal and so enforcement actions commenced late in the day on Jan. 7, Stubbs said.

Initially, the primary role of the officers who climbed over the barricade was to make the situation safe so they could remove a gate erected by the protesters, as directed by the court order, he noted.

“The situation was challenging," he conceded. "The protesters' reaction to the police ranged from passive resistance to active resistance to actual assaultive behaviour.”

One person secured themselves to the barricade while two others attached themselves to the underside of a bus that was blocking access to a bridge, and another was suspended in a hammock from the bridge, Stubbs said.

There also were fires nearby that caused significant safety concerns, he added.

After the arrests, the RCMP worked to establish a dialogue with the hereditary chiefs, Stubbs said, leading to an agreement last Thursday allowing for access by the company across the bridge.

The implementation of the agreement occurred over the weekend without any significant issues, he noted.

Stubbs said the deal included a framework for continued police presence in the area and the RCMP is in the process of bringing in a temporary detachment that will support safety in the area.

The hereditary chiefs have offered to provide cultural awareness training to all members assigned to the detachment, he noted.

He added it hasn't been determined yet how long the detachment will stay in the area.

A timeline for the review also has not yet been established but Stubbs said he understands there is “urgency.”

It hasn't been determined yet whether a report would be made public or whether its findings would be summarized in a news release, he added.

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