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RCMP has spent nearly $50M on policing pipeline, logging standoffs in B.C.

An RCMP squad charged with policing resistance to resource extraction in British Columbia spent nearly $50 million enforcing injunctions obtained by the petroleum and forestry sectors in its first five years, an internal accounting shows.

The figures, released to CBC News under access-to-information law, offer the first publicly available, if rough, estimate of the costs incurred by Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG).

Formed in 2017, the C-IRG has no defined territorial jurisdiction, an unknown number of members, and no set budget. It goes where industry meets land occupations, blockades and civil disobedience.

The unit says it needs this flexible mandate to respond to unpredictable protests, but critics fear the C-IRG received a blank cheque and little oversight from governments.

“The human rights, the Indigenous rights of this country are being weakened day by day by allowing that money to be spent on such units as C-IRG, which did not exist more than a few years ago,” said Na’moks (John Ridsdale), a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“Canada should hold them accountable. B.C. should hold them accountable. The world should hold them accountable. Somebody should be held accountable and take responsibility for the damage that is being done.”

Na’moks said the public deserves to know how much cash the unit spends. He said hereditary chiefs were threatened with arrest, subjected to intrusive vehicle checks and refused access to their territories near Coastal GasLink pipeline build sites as work intensified in recent months.

The Mounties racked up the costs on C-IRG-led operations for that project and two others: the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and old-growth logging at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island. 

The force spent a combined $49.9 million on these hotspots between April 1, 2017 and July 31, 2022.

The years-long Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink operations cost roughly $3.5 million and $27.6 million, respectively.

The Trans Mountain expansion, expected to cost $21.4 billion and bought by the Trudeau government in 2018, would twin an existing 1,150-kilometre oil pipeline stretching from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., near Vancouver. 

The $11.2-billion Coastal GasLink project would carry hydraulically fractured natural gas from an area near Dawson Creek to a liquefaction facility in Kitimat on the coast, where it would ship to markets overseas.

Forestry firm Teal Cedar has estimated the value of timber products in the Fairy Creek area at about $20 million.

The Mounties spent $18.7 million at Fairy Creek in just 16 months, the numbers show.

Meghan McDermott, policy director at the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, like Na’moks, expressed concerns about a lack of accountability and oversight when shown the numbers.

“It seems like a deliberate political choice to not restrain them whatsoever,” she said.

“I’ve worked in government. It seems just so absurd to me to have a unit that has no budgetary restrictions. It’s very strange and absurd.”

Spending continues

The cost of C-IRG-led operations has likely now topped $50 million, as the access request does not cover the latter part of 2022, though it shows spending on the operations continued.

Meanwhile, misconduct allegations, ongoing lawsuits and hundreds of official complaints facing the C-IRG, all obtained and reviewed by CBC News, continue to wind through official channels.

One allegation, involving the C-IRG’s use of exclusion zones, has been upheld in court. In 2021, a B.C. judge ruled the squad broke the law when it used broad exclusion zones to restrict movement at Fairy Creek.

“The RCMP do not have legal authority for these actions. The actions are unlawful,” Justice Douglas Thompson wrote.

A group of people in high-visibility vests and police officers walk on muddy ground in a forest.
RCMP move in as anti-logging protesters at Fairy Creek defy an injunction prohibiting them from blockading the work of Teal Cedar Products on Sept. 29, 2021. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC)

Unproven allegations include accusations of racism, brutality, arbitrary detention, charter violations, theft, intimidation, harassment, destruction of property, abuse of police powers, collusion with private security agents, media manipulation and unorthodox methods.

The squad’s top Mountie, Chief Supt. John Brewer, was not available for an interview and the B.C. RCMP would not comment on C-IRG spending in his absence.

“Once he becomes available, we can certainly revisit this topic,” a spokesperson said via email.

RCMP headquarters in Ottawa also would not comment. Emails show Commissioner Brenda Lucki and other members of the force’s executive are routinely briefed on C-IRG activities.

An RCMP spokesperson at headquarters directed CBC News to the B.C. division, and didn’t reply when pressed to account for Ottawa’s role overseeing the outfit.

In a previous interview with this reporter for APTN News last June, Brewer denied allegations of misconduct.

C-IRG members perform their duties with professionalism and discipline under challenging circumstances that typically include an injunction compelling them to act, said Brewer.

rcmp has spent nearly 50m on policing pipeline logging standoffs in b c 1
RCMP officers carry away someone who had been removed from a blockade and arrested, at the protests near the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island, Aug, 18. 2021. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC News)

In affidavits filed in B.C. court during the Fairy Creek standoff, Brewer argued the unit faced sophisticated and well-financed illegal blockades requiring complex responses.

Wet’suwet’en activists are suing the RCMP, among others, alleging C-IRG members perpetrated a conspiratorial campaign of intimidation and harassment against them.

The B.C. government said it “denies that any RCMP members engaged in an unlawful conspiracy to harm the plaintiffs or anyone” in a November 2022 response.

A February 2022 attack by masked assailants on a Coastal GasLink work site forced the C-IRG to increase patrols, the filing said. Later that year, C-IRG-marked police cruisers were torched.

Created for ‘energy industry incidents’

The C-IRG was created to “provide strategic oversight addressing energy industry incidents,” according to the RCMP website.

It was initially tasked with countering protests by First Nations and environmentalists against the Trans Mountain expansion and Coastal GasLink projects, its founding plans, obtained by CBC News under access-to-information law, show.

In 2018, early in their mandate, C-IRG officers faced off with the Tiny House Warriors, a Secwépemc-led activist collective blocking construction along the Trans Mountain expansion route near Blue River, but never conducted a comprehensive operation to break up the occupation.

On Wet’suwet’en territory, however, the C-IRG carried out three raids in as many years to dismantle blockades interfering with Coastal GasLink construction.

According to the accounting, Mounties spent $9.6 million on that operation during the 2019-20 fiscal year — the same year a pre-dawn C-IRG raid sparked countrywide solidarity protests and rail shutdowns.

The C-IRG branched out in 2021 to Fairy Creek.

Karen Mirsky, a criminal defence lawyer representing more than two dozen Fairy Creek arrestees, called the cost of the operation “preposterous.”

She said it reveals the need for better-funded watchdogs and tougher oversight, and sets what she calls a worrying precedent.

“It’s saying to police, ‘Go fill your boots. We trust you. Do what you need to do. We’re looking the other way,'” Mirsky said.

“It’s a dangerous precedent. It’s a disturbing precedent. I see that as the police using this money to quash people’s rights to free expression and congregation.”

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