With the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)’s 150th anniversary looming next week, it’s a good time to take a closer look at their actual operations, beyond mythologization.
A campaign to abolish an elite police group in British Columbia has united a coalition of lawyers, Indigenous communities and organizations, human rights organizations, non-profits, environmental activists, politicians, academics, and abolitionist groups across the country.
The Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) has targeted the peaceful occupations of the Unist'ot'en and Gidimt’en clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, Gitskan solidarity blockades in New Hazelton, Secwépemc land defenders against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, conservationists at Argenta and Johnsons Landing Face, and anti-logging activists at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.
These are not the usual police operations. The C-IRG polices conflicts specifically related to industrial resource extraction projects and is designed to handle “major incidents” such as hostage takings that require emergency safety and negotiation protocols and co-ordination across the force and government offices.
The emergencies the C-IRG manages, though, have been primarily the enforcement of corporate injunctions against Indigenous people and environmental activists at extractive sites.
What C-IRG does
In fact, the C-IRG was created at the tail end of 2016 to manage resistance to the construction of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline and the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
In practice, the C-IRG structure is a massive volunteer redeployment scheme. Located within “E” Division of the RCMP, tasked with provincial policing in B.C., its Gold-Silver-Bronze (GSB) command structure organizes and executes this co-ordination across regional detachments.
Records show intelligence sharing for C-IRG operations also happens across the provincial government. Information is shared with multiple provincial ministries. This includes assistant deputy ministers’ “liaison civil unrest” meetings and “critical incident” conference calls hosted by the Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Office.
The emergencies the RCMP's Community-Industry Response Group manages have been primarily the enforcement of corporate injunctions against Indigenous people and environmental activists at extractive sites, writes @shiripasternak #RCMP150TimesUp
We know that throughout the Coastal GasLink conflict, the federal government has been kept abreast of police operations and is involved in managing the optics of the issue across multiple departments, as well.
When C-IRG injunction enforcement operations on Wet’suwet’en territory sparked a national “shutdown” campaign of railroads, highways and city centres in winter 2020, access-to-information documents show the Canadian military and the Department of National Defence were engaged.
A co-ordinated Incident Response Group meeting was held by the prime minister, with mandatory attendance for the deputy prime minister, ministers of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Natural Resources, Transport Canada, and others.
Federal and provincial counterparts in Public Safety have also communicated during the CGL conflict.
Access-to-information documents show talking points for federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino were prepared for a call with B.C.’s Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in November 2021.
A bullet point labelled “responsive” states: “We do not see the issue as being related to rights and title — it’s more of an environmental protest in concert with an internal governance issue in Wet’suwet’en territory.”
While the government claimed the protest was “environmental” in nature, the opposition to the pipeline explicitly involved Wet’suwet’en assertions of Aboriginal rights and title to their territory. These issues fall under federal jurisdiction.
By denying this responsibility, the Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Indigenous Services Canada violated its fiduciary obligations. Documents show the ministry received briefings and even prepared a report for the minister on Wet’suwet’en rights and title regarding the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Documents obtained show the document was approved by Joe Wild, who manages the portfolio and negotiations for Canada on treaties and title issues.
Why not reform C-IRG?
C-IRG has a long track record of being impervious to criticism and failure to be accountable for unlawful conduct. As early as 2020, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) submitted a complaint to the RCMP’s Civilian Review Complaints Commission concerning the C-IRG’s implementation and enforcement of a checkpoint and exclusion zone in Wet’suwet’en territory. The association argued the zones constituted “improper and unlawful actions” of “overbroad scope.”
Along with other organizations, the civil liberties group had to file other complaints in 2021 and 2022 to challenge these same tactics at Fairy Creek, Argenta and Johnsons Landing Face.
In 2021, logging company Teal-Cedar’s request to extend its injunction against Fairy Creek activists was denied by the judge, citing “substantial infringement of civil liberties” conducted by the C-IRG.
By 2022, the Civilian Review Complaints Commission had received about 500 complaints in areas where C-IRG is active. Only a handful were ever investigated. The Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation filed a civil suit that year against the RCMP, the justice minister, and CGL’s private security force, Forsythe Security, alleging hundreds of incidents of C-IRG harassment, including theft, intimidation, surveillance, targeting, and unlawful arrests in their camp.
Journalists also filed a lawsuit against the RCMP that targeted C-IRG operations.
In March 2023, the Civilian Review Complaints Commission announced a systemic review of C-IRG, bowing to pressure from land defenders at Fairy Creek, Wet’suwet’en, and Argenta Landing.
The Abolish C-IRG coalition released a letter criticizing the weak process and demanding an immediate suspension of the force while the review was underway.
International human rights bodies have also seemed unable to elicit any kind of accountability for C-IRG from the federal and provincial governments. The United Nations has issued three rebukes against the governments of Canada and B.C., alleging the police “have escalated their use of force, surveillance, and criminalization of land defenders to intimidate, remove and forcibly evict Secwépemc and Wet'suwet'en Nations from their traditional lands.”
As well, a scathing report was released by the Special UN Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples on the use of police forces in Wet’suwet’en territory.
Unlike the use of the GSB command structure in other “emergencies” and “major incidents,” which usually have clear start and end points, C-IRG’s mandate for enforcement extends as long as projects are seen to be at risk of disruption from opponents. The Trans Mountain injunction, for example, dates back to 2014 when the company Kinder Morgan still owned it.
The call to abolish C-IRG is also a demand to reframe Indigenous land defence and climate activism as “emergency” police matters. These are urgent political issues. Not issues for corporate injunctions to solve.
Shiri Pasternak is the co-founder and former research director at Yellowhead Institute. She is an associate professor in criminology at Toronto Metropolitan University.