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Does accountability delayed mean accountability denied?

After years of stalling, the RCMP has finally been rebuked for stomping on the rights of peaceful protesters in 2013: conducting warrantless searches, stops and spot checks and the retention of personal and social media data.  

A few weeks ago, the CRCC (Civilian Review and Complaints Commission) released their report on the RCMP’s aggressive actions during the heightened grassroots opposition to shale gas and fracking in New Brunswick, entitled Commission’s Final Report into the RCMP’s Response the Anti-shale Gas Protests in Kent County, New Brunswick. The 208-page report, including their interim report and the RCMP response, was released just over seven years after the violent RCMP raid on the land defenders and water protectors’ encampment near Rexton and Elsipogtog First Nation, in Kent County.  

The CRCC report reviewed 21 public complaints of the RMCP’s actions in a variety of areas, including surveillance and searches, open-source intelligence gathering, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, sensitivity to Indigenous culture and alleged bias against Indigenous protesters, and the tactical operation on October 17, 2013. The Commission’s final report concluded with 38 findings and 12 recommendations, several of which the RCMP claim to already be doing and others that they will not change. Read the full report

At the time, the Council of Canadians, including local chapters, regional staff and Board members helped organize and participated in solidarity actions, and provided various supports for this frontline struggle over several months leading up to and beyond the October 17, 2013 raid. The Council remains committed to stopping fracking and our work alongside local activists has led to moratoriums on fracking in several provinces.  

At our June 2019 Annual Meeting of Members, an emergency resolution calling for the release of this report received unanimous support from the membership. The resolution was brought forward in part because the report sat with the RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s office for over a year without any sign of being released to the public. During that time, several other Indigenous-led campaigns had heightened tensions including the Wet’suwet’en opposition to TMX’s proposed pipeline crossing their territory.  

In August 2019, more than 7000 Council supporters from across the country appealed to then Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale to release the report. Since then, policing, public safety, dissent and racism have come to the forefront of our discourse and are worth further reflection.  

The criminalization of dissent  

There is a well-established pattern of treatment of land defenders and water protectors, in particular Indigenous Peoples. Although the CRCC report firmly denies any differing of treatment by RCMP to Indigenous vs non-Indigenous people in Elsipogtog /Mi’kmaq territory, during a road blockade I personally witnessed RCMP pushing some people off the road and arresting others.   

Other examples have been highlighted in Council analysis, including:  

The erosion of democracy  

Within this jurisdiction we call Canada, our colonial government is considered a representative democracy, which at its core means the politicians we the people elect are put into positions of power and are entrusted to use that power for the public good.  

And in Canada, we have seen the federal police force prioritize the protection of private property and corporate rights over the rights and liberties of people time and time again, demonstrating how deeply our federal and provincial governments are tied to the interests of the extractive industries.   

Our democracy has failed to cast light on these connections, intervene with public scrutiny, and hold bad actors— individuals, companies, or public agencies— accountable. This frightening analysis written a few months back highlights the troubling financial connections between big oil and the police.  

With this new CRCC report, the government took seven years to release a report looking into the federal police force’s actions. And even after this tremendous delay, there is no guarantee of action – the RCMP has the power to not accept some of the recommendations and has in fact chosen to do so.  

The grassroots land and water defenders who were involved in the 2013 fight against SWN (Southwestern Energy) in Kent County are extremely disappointed with this report and the lack of transparency and accountability throughout the process – starting with the then-Alward government of New Brunswick saying nothing about fracking in their platform during the provincial election the year prior to the RCMP’s ability to refuse recommendations in the final report.   

The Council of Canadians agree with these concerns wholeheartedly. Transparency and democratic discourse are the antidote to the frequent and worrying clash between our rights and policing – and we need to take action to support those on the frontlines of this struggle.   

  •  Take action today. Call your MP, the RCMP local detachment and head office, and write letters to the editor to demand they accept the recommendations in the report 

More commentary about the report can be found listed below: