Critics call it “unnecessary” and “excessive”. Watch how these RCMP arrests in Wet’suwet’en land unfolded

Disclaimer: Some may find the video content and language disturbing.

VANCOUVER — Recently released footage taken by filmmaker as RCMP arrested him, another reporter and pipeline opponents shines the spotlight on methods used by Canada’s National Police in Wet’suwet’en territory last week .

On Wednesday, Michael Toledano posted a video he took moments before his arrest late last week. He and photojournalist Amber Bracken were among those subsequently detained over the weekend before being released on conditions on Monday.

The video shows the use of firearms, a police dog and a chainsaw during the arrests – moves that prompted Tom Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association to question the RCMP’s actions in the latest chapter in a dispute that has raged for years and drawn international attention.

“You combine the dog, you combine all these cops, then you combine the pointed guns and the way (the emergency response team) is dressed,” said Engel, chairman of the police committee of the ‘association. “All of this is a show of force and therefore it is a use of force.

“And that just seems unnecessary and excessive to me.”

A video by filmmaker Michael Toledano, shared with media outlets including The Star, appears to show the RCMP raiding a camp and stopping Wet’suwet’en opponents at a 670-kilometer pipeline.

  • In a video of the filmmaker shared with the Star, the RCMP appear to be raiding a camp and arresting Wet'suwet'en opponents of a 670-kilometer pipeline and freelance photographer Amber Bracken.

At the heart of the pipeline dispute are the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who are trying to stop construction of the 670-kilometer pipeline to transport natural gas through northern British Columbia. They say Coastal GasLink, the company that is building the pipeline, has no right to go ahead because the project has not been approved by traditional government systems. Elected leaders have backed the project and a British Columbia court has issued an injunction against those seeking to interfere with the project.

The new video, which Toledano provided to news outlets including The Star, appears to show the interior of a structure in the pipeline opponents’ coyote camp as RCMP arrived at the scene last week.

The video begins with the police circling the hut.

“This is a private residence and you are entering a trespass, you have to leave now,” camp spokeswoman Molly Wickham told police across the way, who threaten to arrest those located there under a 2019 court injunction intended to prevent disruption to pipeline construction.

RCMP raided a camp and arrested opponents Wet'suwet'en, a 670 kilometer pipeline, and freelance photographer Amber Bracken.

Moments later, pieces of the door fly into the room as the RCMP begin to pound it. A police dog can be heard barking outside.

An officer in tactical gear can be seen through the door, pointing a rifle at those inside.

“Get me your fucking gun!” Wickham yells just before the police use a chainsaw to finish breaking through the door. Those who are inside do not fight.

Toledano and Bracken clearly identified themselves as journalists during the arrests.

Toledano was working on a documentary CBC commissioned for The Passionate Eye. He said on Wednesday that watching the video now was traumatic for him and others, adding that it showed “excessive forceful deposition” from the RCMP.

“The use of axes and chainsaws to break through doors, the presence of dog teams, the presence of assault weapons, the way we were surrounded,” Toledano said. “All of this points to a very aggressive and punitive response from the RCMP which aims to scare people both by resisting fossil fuel projects, but also by legally documenting police actions. “

Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association revised the images at the Star’s request.

He expressed concerns about the use of the chainsaw to break through the hut, the use of rifles by the RCMP emergency response team in tactical gear and the barking dog in the video. Even if they were allowed to use force to enforce the injunction, and could justify its use, “it’s a bad image for the RCMP,” he said.

Engel said the officer at the door after she was pierced was holding his rifle in the “ready down” position. It means not on the ground or just on someone’s chest, but it is held in a way that makes them “ready to shoot and shoot”.

“I see no justification for pointing these guns unless they have reason to believe that the people inside were armed with guns,” Engel said.

“Pointing a gun at someone without justification is a criminal offense. “

It would not be safe for the officers to stand directly in front of the door, as they are in the video, if they thought the people inside had guns, Engel added.

Additionally, Engel said using the chainsaw was “risky” given that police usually have a ram with them to tear down doors.

“What if they hit a nail or something and it flies off and blinds someone?” ” he said. “They could have kicked it in, I mean, it’s not a steel door or something.”

The barking of the dog, which Engel assumed to be a police dog, is “supposed to be under control,” he said.

“A dog barking like that is scary,” he said.

The arrests of the journalists during the meeting drew strong criticism of the RCMP from press freedom advocates.

James Cudmore, director of communications for Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, said in an emailed statement that the images “reinforce concerns that have been raised about the operations on the ground and the freedom of the press of collect and report the news “.

“The job of the RCMP is to uphold the law, ensure public safety and respect the rights of all Canadians,” he said. “This obviously includes journalists.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists said the courts have already upheld journalists’ right to report in court injunction areas, pointing to a 2019 ruling by the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge. -Labrador, Derek Green, to dismiss civil charges related to coverage of the Muskrat Falls site. protest, which interrupted work on a dam in 2016.

In July, the CAJ, along with other media organizations, also won a court challenge in the British Columbia Supreme Court over press freedom in the Fairy Creek area. The judge’s final ruling agreed with media groups, saying the RCMP cannot interfere with coverage without providing an operational reason to do so.

The two journalists were among those held for several days and transported to Prince George, British Columbia, for a court appearance. Before their release, they promised to appear in court in February for civil contempt.

RCMP arrested around 30 people last week at camps and roadblocks along the Morice River Forest Service Road trying to prevent the construction of a pipeline across Wet’suwet’en territory to the south. by Smithers.

RCMP said the arrests featured in the footage came after 60 minutes of dialogue with people inside the structures, and the two journalists did not identify themselves as reporters during the hour-long discussion.

But Carol Linnitt, editor-in-chief of Narwhal, the online publication Bracken worked for, told The Star earlier this week that she had informed police that Bracken was at the camp on a mission.

Toledano said the force was aware of his presence in the area, as his production company informed them he was there to cover the events. The officer who arrested him was not interested in reading his press references when he was taken into custody, Toledano said.

Previous protests at the site have also led to police arresting or attempting to intimidate journalists, he said.

Police said the two were not denied access to the area and were not asked to stay in a specific area while police made the arrests.

“The RCMP have not arrested anyone for being a journalist or detained anyone for doing their job,” the force said in a statement Monday.

The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment on the use of guns and a police dog during the filmed arrests on Wednesday.

Sean Holman, professor of environmental and climate journalism at the University of Victoria, said what is at stake in situations like these is, fundamentally, “the ability of the governed to see what their government and the agents of this government, do. “

There could be a scenario where the police arrest a reporter if the reporter puts others “in immediate danger,” Holman said, but what reporters were doing in this circumstance was to provide transparency to the public.

“Journalists enjoy, or should enjoy, certain privileges and protections associated with this work,” he added, “and it appears that there has been, based on what we see, a break in this understanding. “

This is just the latest outbreak of a long-standing dispute.

In 2020, after protests broke out across Canada in favor of hereditary chiefs, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the hereditary chiefs and the provincial and federal governments to discuss Wet ‘land rights and title deeds. suwet’en. Those talks have not progressed, a chiefs spokesperson told The Star last week. The latest round of blockages by opponents of the pipeline began when Coastal GasLink was preparing to drill under the Morice River.

There were new protests in different parts of the country last week in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

CORRECTION – November 24, 2021 – This story has been updated to correct Tom Engel’s title in the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association.

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