Date: September 25, 2015
From: Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians
To: Civilian Complaints and Review Commission for the RCMP
On August 27 2015, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP issued a call for written submissions and recommendations on “how the RCMP and Kent County residents can re-build a positive relationship.”The Commission’s request for submissions arises from it’s ongoing investigation into the conduct of RCMP members during the 2013 environmental protection “anti-fracking”
actions in Kent County.
This is a response to that call. In the online request for submissions on hpw to “rebuild” the “relationship,” the Commission acknowledges hearing from many witnesses and complainants who expressed that the conduct of the RCMP during protests against fracking had led to a lack of faith and trust in the police force.
The Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians also made a call-out: for ideas to be included in this response. Many people expressed profound doubt that anything could help with healing these wounds, the specific details of which are too numerous to mention here.
It is very clear to us that we became targets of a public relations war. From 2010 on, the
Government of New Brunswick was determined to shove deep shale gas industrial development down the throats of rural New Brunswickers. This meant we had to accept
the new style of hydraulic refracturing – called “fracking” – which is clearly dangerous.
Communities across the province were in an uproar over this. There was and is no
evidence that there are any real benefits to the communities that get fracked, but initially
the provincial government used simple bluster and positive assertion to try to convince the public about the economic benefits and safety of deep shale gas fracking. As the truth started to come out, especially in peer-acclaimed research on benefits, risk, and hazards found in the New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health’s Recommendations Concerning Shale Gas Development in New Brunswick (September, 2012), it became evident that the government was losing its public relations war.
By 2013, it became patently obvious that corporate and public officials (both federal and
provincial) were concerned only with promoting climate-killing “extreme” petrochemical
industrial development. The pro-fracking elite was desperate. They needed a new public relations strategy, and decided to demonize those of us who wish to protect the
environment and community health from fracking.
Their public relations war was tweaked a few times, and ultimately re-aimed to focus on the danger of indigenous people and their environmentalist allies. As mentioned below, we can even identify the time period when the focus telescoped from saying we were all dangerous, to zeroing in on indigenous protectors as the primary targets. The “wrongs” committed in 2013 by officials during the anti-fracking actions are many – most severely: removals, arrests, charges, conditions, and sentences. These were often done in disregard for the pain inflicted, or the cultural and spiritual world of the protesters and protectors.
From our side of the fence, we had made a pledge to one another to stick to non-violent
strategies. This pledge came from all sectors within our united movement. We were never the aggressors. Although the clear abandonment of care-taking responsibilities by
Canadian governments, and the actions of the RCMP in the field, including physical and
spiritual attacks and illegal tactics such as “kettle-ing” did provoke some allies to lose their tempers, we were always standing firmly but non-violently in protection of our environment that sustains us.
Our members acknowledge the inevitability of having a system for law and order in our
communities. We need a “peace officer” police force in whom we can have some trust and respect, and this is not presently the case. The first priority of the RCMP has to be the care and protection of the people in our communities. The RCMP must disassociate themselves from direct or indirect corporate control, whether this attempt to control comes through direct orders, or by persuasion from the corporations, or from governments who are promoting the corporate programs that threaten our communities.
Now, two years later, our group is guided on the matter of this request for submissions by some of our closest allies, who speak from and for the community of Elsipogtog. In the traditional manner of true warriors, residents of Elsipogtog “bore the brunt” of the
campaign to protect the water and region for all of us. We have heard that if something
meaningful is not done to improve local relationships between the RCMP and the
community, anger will continue to rise. The consequences of that could be alarming.
After considerable discussion on whether we could regard this request for submission as being made in “good faith,” we decided to prepare this response in an attempt to dialogue about the need to initiate some healing. Commitment on all sides to initiate healing requires courage and trust in faith that some good may come from it. Only after the healing is underway, can we begin to talk about how to “build a positive relationship.”
The Facts from Our Point of View
1. It is apparent that the RCMP have not been educated on the common knowledge about the Peace & Friendship Treaties, in which there was no surrender of land or resources by the Mi’kmaq People. It was evident as well that the RCMP have not benefited from cultural competency or anti-oppression training.
2. The issues at stake were basically a civil matter, where a corporation wanted to do something in and around communities that opposed this activity. People have a right to non-violent protest against such activity, a right that is guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution as well as the various international human rights accords to which the Government of Canada is signatory. The people involved in protest and protection resistance were well aware of their rights. This is why there were so many elders, women and children involved in the actions. No one expected the things that happened.
3. The “Crown” failed in its obligations under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and additional legal precepts established by the Supreme Court of Canada and international law. The “Crown” in this case is the Province of New Brunswick, because management of natural resources falls under provincial jurisdiction.
4. The underlying purpose of all this activism was first and foremost to protect the water. This is a poor region where there are few actual jobs. Most people of all cultures here make their livelihood at least in part from the land, rivers, ocean, and forests. Water is essential for the survival of people and these natural resource areas. People were concerned that the loss of good fresh water would mean having to leave the area where their family and cultures have lived for many generations, and in the case of the Mi’kmaq People since time immemorial. There appeared to be no understanding by the RCMP that protection of the water was the underlying issue for all community members involved in resisting the corporation’s activities, and a core issue for the extended communities supporting these activists.
5. The Government of New Brunswick contracts the RCMP as the NB provincial police force. Because the force is first and foremost a federal one, Indigenous people in particular have established expectations and protocols regarding the RCMP. To a certain extent, so do all Canadians. To enforce its pro-fracking policy, the New Brunswick provincial government exerted extreme influence and pressure on the RCMP to “break” the non-violent resistance of Kent County environmental protectors and protesters. This alone was the major factor creating the alienation between community members and the force. We knew that the RCMP were being used politically to advance a corporate/government agenda we opposed. None of the authorities cared to consider the relationship damage they were creating. With this mandate, the RCMP operated as a military-style force to implement the government policy that shale gas development would go ahead despite community uproar across the province. The criminalisation of protesters and protectors was a choice made by RCMP commanders who instructed the forces on the line.
6. During the initial days of the corporation’s activity in Kent County (June 3 – June 20 2013), the RCMP appeared to be equally concerned with criminalizing both non-Indigenous and Indigenous activists, as they faced non-violent resistance from an united front of Acadians, Anglophones, Mi’kmaq, and other allies. However, by June 21, which is ironically National Aboriginal Day, the focus of the RCMP switched to total concern with Indigenous activists. The Commission has heard complaints from various individuals (both non-Indigenous and Indigenous) about this biased conduct, related to June 21 st and the following weeks and months.
7. This is a tightly networked rural area where most people know or are related to each other in some way, across all three founding cultural communities. Many of the protesters and protectors also have extended family members employed in the RCMP. Informally through community networks, it is our impression that many officers with local Kent County RCMP detachments were not in agreement with the way that the force was commanded to operate during these months. The voices and reasons of these local peace officers, as to why they disagreed, should have been heard and considered fully. That is the way good community policing is done.
8. The events of October 17 2013 were the most obvious breach of people’s constitutional rights. Looking at an affidavit by Mark Lenehan, prepared by legal representatives for SWN Resources Canada on October 9 2013 (this has already been submitted to the Commission), we see quotes from an RCMP operational commander at the protest site. Sgt. Robichaud tells Mr. Lenehan that going into the 134 camp with Lenehan to serve papers re: the civil action injunction would amount to “inciting a riot” and “igniting a powder keg.” Ann Pohl (one of the contact people for this document) is one of the people specifically named in the injunction related to this affidavit. Prior to October 13 2013, when Ann visited the camp, she was assured by RCMP on duty at the police blockades (located at either end of the protest area) that she could enter the area without risking arrest. Specifically, she was told it was not the RCMP’s job to enforce a civil action injunction. Despite all the apparent tolerance and understanding by RCMP on duty during the weeks leading up to the October 17 commando raid on the protest site, we all saw what happened that day. On October 17, the RCMP’s callous disregard for human rights and safety of people was a stark contrast to their easy-going attitude in the weeks before. This deeply hardened community attitudes against the force.
9. There are a number of specific issues of great concern relative to the October 17 dawn RCMP commando raid on the protest camp. We will mention here just a few that must be acknowledged and addressed within any healing process:
♦ A sacred gift of Tobacco was provided by the RCMP to some of the Mi’kmaq
protectors the night before the raid. Everything that happened after was a
complete violation of the significance and protocols associated with this gifting.
♦ As it was being launched, all Kent County roads leading to the site were closed EXCEPT the roads that go from Elsipogtog First Nation. To many any people, this suggests that the RCMP were actually baiting First Nations people to come into the fracas that the RCMP troops were creating at the site, so that it would appear to the media and the outside world that the only people involved in the protest were Indigenous.
♦ Two very different stories were used to explain the rationale for the police assault. Early that morning, the RCMP brought in trucks equipped with powerful public address systems that were used to proclaim the civil law injunction as a pretext for the invasion. Yet, hours later, the RCMP commented they had to invade the protest camp because they had “intelligence” about a build-up of weapons on site and things were about to turn very dangerous. As there was almost no verifiable evidence of a weapons buildup, both excuses contradict what RCMP said a week earlier (see Lenehan affidavit). Dishonesty undermines public faith in the trustworthiness and credibility of our public servants.
♦ The burning of the police cars was major news across the country. We are all convinced that it was not done by anyone who was part of our united movement to protect the environment. Among all Kent County protestors and protectors, and our allies, there is a wide-spread belief that agents working for some arm of the RCMP or a sister federal force are responsible for the burning of the police cars.
Your Commission is well aware of this view, from complaints and comments you have heard: unusual RCMP activity immediately before the fires appeared; querying what accelerant could actually cause the fires to start so quickly; failure by RCMP to protect the crime scene of the burned cars; why the cars appeared to be lacking standard police communications equipment; the possibility that the cars were deliberately decommissioned at a specialty shop the week previous; the cars were left at the road for so long after the burning; knowledge that such provocative acts have been done before by the RCMP; and many more points.
The evidence points to this conclusion: the RCMP burned their own cars, or hired someone to do so, in order to affect public opinion. This is a kick in the teeth to the entire community, making those of us involved in non-violent resistance to protect our environment for future generations look like hoodlums.
♦ Many people continue to face charges and other legal and financial consequences as a result of this RCMP action. For some, this has been devastating. Some people pleaded guilty as they had no financial means to defend their rights through the justice system.
Reinventing the Wheel: No Need for It!
At the heart of all the issues related to policing during these protests is ethics and fairness, as well as the use of tired old military strategies such as “divide and conquer.”
The RCMP have consistently attempted to insinuate that there are significant differences between those of us involved in the protests and protection actions, and that these differences follow cultural boundaries.
There is no truth to this. It is an undeniable fact that greater than 90% of Kent County residents are united in our determination to protect the natural environment that sustains us all. Local environmental groups and communities did a research survey in the summer of 2013 to ascertain this fact. The findings were subsequently reported to the Kent County Regional Service Commission, who on July 18 2013 passed a resolution by a vote of 16-1 to ask the provincial government to stop the corporate exploration, until Kent residents can be provided with “a guarantee for our environment and we can inform citizens about what’s going on.”
We are now, in fact, more united than ever in our collective determination to protect this
territory we share in “Peace and Friendship.” Some of the community members being
interviewed by the Civilian Commission’s investigators were led into a field of inquiry about divisions between activists based on cultural heritage. We sincerely hope that these questions do not reflect biased attitudes by Civilian Commission personnel, and were asked only to determine the relative validity of information provided by the RCMP to the investigators and staff of the Civilian Commission.
That said, we have clearly stated above that we note that Indigenous protestors and
protectors were handled in a much rougher and meaner manner by RCMP than non-
Indigenous ones. Most of the issues that arose over this period in regards to the
Indigenous protectors and protesters are addressed in the final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, submitted by The Honourable Sidney B. Linden (Inquiry Commissioner) on May 30, 2007 to the Government of Ontario.
Echoing specific points highlighted in that report, it was clear from the conduct of RCMP
officers here in Kent County that the members of the force were never briefed on why
people were engaged in these protests, occupations, and actions of non-violent civil
resistance. RCMP were also not made aware of the significance of the “colour of right”
(another point highlighted in the Ipperwash Inquiry report), in regards to the sincere
motivations of all protesters and protectors. People engaged in actions were making a
good faith assertion of their right (even obligation) to defend their water, land, air,
communities, and family health, because the threat being posed to these things would
result in their irretrievable loss. It is the fault of the provincial government that Kent County neighbours and allies felt this desperate, but the RCMP needs to be a peace force for all the people, not for the government.
We are suggesting the following as first steps towards opening a productive dialogue
between the RCMP and the traumatized and embittered communities in Kent County:
1. Establish a small planning group mandated to initiate a healing process. It is
requested that there be a maximum of three RCMP members in this initial planning
group, of whom two would be Sergeant Jarrett Francis and Retired Corporal Chris
Ward. As well, the committee would include a minimum of three additional
community representatives from the Mi’kmaq community, and a total of three from
the Acadian and Anglophone communities. Participation in this planning group
would be entirely voluntary (no fees for services) although incidental expenses for
food, etc., would be covered by the Commission.
2. This planning group will develop a plan to begin the healing process. Only after this
monumental task is accomplished can we begin to speak about building a positive
3. The sooner this planning group begins this work towards healing, the shorter the
path to a productive dialogue on relationship building.
Here are two additional broader scope recommendations:
4. Additionally, the Commission must recommend to the RCMP that a special team be
created to review the final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, and that the Inquiry’s
Recommendations be adapted for relevance across Canada, and used within the
RCMP at all levels for professional development and training for environmental and
land rights protests (exclusive of recommendations 16, 19 and 20, which pertain
specifically to Ipperwash matters).
5. Treaty and indigenous rights education is essential for all personnel in the RCMP,
and must be led by Indigenous educators from the regions where the RCMP serve.
Please Contact Us for Further Discussion
If the Commission is interested in pursuing further consideration of this submission, you
are invited to contact these three individuals via the email address for the Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians at email@example.com
♦ Ann Pohl, Bass River resident
♦ Kenneth Francis, Elsipogtog First Nation resident
♦ Roger Richard, St-Louis-de-Kent resident