Can an Indigenous police force replace RCMP on Wet'suwet'en land? 'Not tomorrow,' Blair says
TORONTO -- After the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake offered to replace RCMP officers on Wet’suwet’en territory with their own Indigenous peacekeeping force in order to help satisfy one of the main concerns of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said such a solution wouldn’t happen any time soon.
“Not tomorrow,” Blair told CTV’s Power Play.
In a press release put out Friday, Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton said that providing Kahnawa:ke Peacekeepers to head up a temporary Indigenous police force in the region could be “a possible solution to address one of the most problematic issues in the Wet’suwet’en situation.”
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and supporters have been protesting the construction of a Coastal GasLink pipeline slated to go through unceded Wet’suwet’en land in northern B.C., a project that hereditary chiefs say they have not consented to.
Friday saw the second day of talks between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and provincial and federal officials, as all parties attempt to find a solution to end solidarity protests across the country that have disrupted rail service.
A key sticking point has been the continued presence of RCMP on Wet’suwet’en land.
But although hereditary chiefs have said that the RCMP must remove themselves from Wet’suwet’en territory and cease patrols in order for negotiations to succeed, Blair said on CTV’s Power Play that it “isn’t possible,” for the RCMP to completely vacate the area.
“In every place in Canada, the rule of law will prevail, and underpinning that rule of law is the presence of an effective police service,” Blair said. “That’s the RCMP in that region.”
Grand Chief Norton also spoke of the need for there to be policing in his offer of assistance.
“The key demand is for the RCMP to leave, but there is a need for policing services to offer assistance in everyday matters,” he wrote.
The statement went on to say that Chief Peacekeeper Dwayne Zacharie had agreed to coordinate with Indigenous police chiefs in order to procure a sufficient number of officers to volunteer to patrol Wet’suwet’en territory.
“We feel this can lead to an immediate de-escalation of the current crisis,” Norton said in the statement.
Blair said “that’s a model that has worked in a number of jurisdictions, and it can form part of the discussion,” but emphasized further that “in every place in Canada, people that live in Canada are entitled to the service and protection of a functioning police service.”
Nathan Cullen, a former NDP MP who is acting as a liaison between the governments and chiefs during the talks, said Friday that the Mohawk offer of peacekeeping assistance isn't a part of the discussions in Smithers, B.C., and that “it’s going to be the people around that table who are going to make the solutions happen.”
Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, of the RCMP, also said that the RCMP were aware of the offer, but that any decisions around police service delivery would need to include the federal and provincial governments and the affected parties.
Blair, who is a former police chief himself, said that “the RCMP are the police of jurisdiction in that area, and they have demonstrated -- I think -- throughout this, a willingness to work closely with hereditary chiefs and with everybody in that community to provide those policing services.”
During the RCMP raids on Wet’suwet’en camps set up along Morice West Forest Service Road in early February, the RCMP arrested more than a dozen unarmed land defenders. Journalists attempting to report on the raids were threatened with arrest. A video taken during one of the raids by a land defender appeared to show an RCMP officer pointing a rifle at the protestor while he pleaded “don’t point your gun at me.”
Blair pointed out that the RCMP offered themselves to pull their forces out of a remote detachment set up on Wet’suwet’en territory during the enforcement of the injunction.
However, despite this, Wet’suwet’en officials say that Mounties have increased patrols on their land.
Molly Wickam, spokesperson of Gidimt’en Clan of Wet’suwet’en Nation, spoke to CTV News on Monday and alleged that the RCMP have continued to harass, arrest and detain Wet’suwet’en people on their own territory even after the Mounties moved their main force to nearby Houston, B.C.
According to Blair, the RCMP “do a great job in that community.”
He added that ultimately, policing is a provincial responsibility, and that he has confidence in provincial officials to deal with protests and policing as they see fit.
Historically, relationships between Indigenous communities and the RCMP have been fraught. A Human Rights Watch report put out in 2013 detailed how the RCMP in B.C. in particular had frequently mistreated Indigenous girls and women or failed to properly investigate the murders and disappearances that had taken place within that province.
With files from the Canadian Press